Can Employers Require Workers To Sign An Inaccurate Disciplinary Action Under Threat Of Termination?
Having represented retaliation victims for more than two decades, our employee rights lawyers in Citrus County, Florida know that many employers use disciplinary action as a retaliatory weapon against employees who complain about perceived workplace discrimination. In far too many cases, employers target employees who lodge discrimination complaints for retaliatory disciplinary action and then use the retaliatory disciplinary action to justify a retaliatory termination. In other words, employers use retaliatory disciplinary action to create a paper trail that culminates in a retaliatory termination. In some cases, employees who complain about workplace discrimination are required to sign an inaccurate disciplinary action under threat of termination. A particularly dastardly employer tactic which places employees in the position of being fired now or being fired later because of their workplace discrimination complaint. In this article, our employee rights lawyers in Citrus County, Florida explain how the decision in Moore v. Pegasus Steel, LLC, Case No. 22-cv-3096 (D. S.C. Dec. 19, 2023) shows that the anti-retaliation provisions in federal employment discrimination laws protect employees who are required to sign an inaccurate disciplinary action form under threat of termination.
Protection From Retaliation
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) protects employees from discrimination on the basis of color, race, national origin, sex, and religion. In order to protect employee rights and facilitate the eradication of workplace discrimination, Title VII contains an anti-retaliation provision. Under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees because they complained about perceived discrimination on the basis of color, race, national origin, sex, or religion in the workplace.
Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision does not protect employees from all retaliatory employment actions. Instead, Title VII’s anti-retaliation only protects employees from an employment action that constitutes an “adverse employment action.” In the Title VII retaliation context, an adverse employment action does not have to be an ultimate employment decision, such as a demotion, failure to promote, reduction in pay, or termination. Rather, as observed by the court in Prince-Garrison v. Maryland Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene, 2009 WL 667421 (4th Cir. 2009), any employment action that is “materially adverse,” meaning “it might well have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,” constitutes an adverse employment action for purposes of Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision.
In Moore, a man named Moore brought a retaliation claim against his employer, Pegasus Steel, LLC (“Pagasus”), pursuant to Title VII. Moore claims that Pagasus retaliated against him in violation of Title VII by instructing him to sign an inaccurate disciplinary form or be terminated.
In June 2017, Moore began working for Pegasus as a welder/fabricator. In October 2020, Moore alleges that his supervisor, Cavanaugh, performed an inspection and accused Moore and two other white employees of welding outside accepted parameters. The two white employees, according to Moore, received only a manager’s warning, while Cavanaugh suspended Moore for one week without pay and revoked his certification for 90 days, which resulted in a decrease in his rate of pay by $1.00 per hour. Moore further alleges that he and other African-American employees would be disciplined for failing to heat up specific materials though their white co-employees would perform the same task the same way and would not be disciplined.
Moore asserts that he lodged a racial discrimination complaint regarding the alleged race-based disparate treatment with the Chief Human Resources Officer, Sisk, of Pegasus. After his racial discrimination complaint, Moore contends that Sisk presented him with inaccurate disciplinary forms to sign and told Moore that he had to sign the disciplinary forms or that he would be terminated.
Retaliatory Threat Of Termination
Pegasus filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Moore’s retaliation claim. In seeking dismissal, Pegasus argued that requiring an employee to sign a disciplinary form which has “absolutely no impact upon his employment,” accurate or not, does not constitute an adverse employment action for purposes of Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision. In other words, according to Pegasus, even if Moore was told to sign an inaccurate disciplinary form under threat of termination in retaliation for his race discrimination complaint, the retaliatory act did not violate Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision because requiring an employee to sign an inaccurate disciplinary form under threat of termination does not constitute an adverse employment action. Stated another way, Pegasus maintained that employers are lawfully permitted to retaliate against employees who complain about workplace discrimination by requiring them to sign an inaccurate disciplinary form under threat of termination.
In denying Pegasus’ motion for dismissal, the trial court explained that Moore’s allegations show that his “failure to sign the form would result in his termination, which would impact his employment.” The trial court also pointed out federal courts have held that a “a letter of warning” constitutes an adverse employment action under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision where the employee is warned that “future disciplinary actions could result in further discipline, including termination.” In applying this principle, the trial court reasoned that “the threat of termination if [Moore] failed to sign” the disciplinary form constituted an adverse employment action within the meaning of Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision. Thus, the trial court determined requiring an employee to sign an inaccurate disciplinary form under threat of termination because the employee complained about race discrimination was a retaliatory act forbidden by Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision.
Citrus County Employee Rights Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employee rights attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employees. If you have been retaliated against for exercising your employee rights or have questions about your employee rights under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employee rights lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes retaliation cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.