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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Can a Negative Job Reference Letter Lead to a Retaliation Claim?

Shocked worker getting dismissal notice from boss

In short, a negative job reference letter can lead to a retaliation claim if the employer wrote a negative letter in response to previously complaining about workplace discrimination.

Having fought for the rights of employment discrimination victims for almost twenty years, our Alachua County, Florida discrimination lawyers have learned that employees may punish employees who complain about workplace discrimination by disseminating negative employment references about them. Under the anti-retaliation provisions of federal employment discrimination laws, employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about workplace discrimination. In construing the scope of the anti-retaliation provisions of federal employment discrimination laws, courts have determined that it is unlawful for an employer to disseminate a negative employment reference against a present or former employee in retaliation for having complained about employment discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or filed an employment discrimination lawsuit. 

Employer Retaliates By Giving Negative Job Reference

The recent decision by the U.S. District Court for Nevada in Wang v. Nevada Systems of Higher Education, No. 18-75 (D. Nev. Nov. 6, 2018) further illustrates that a negative employment reference violates federal employment discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), even if the negative reference does not affect the potential employer’s decision not to hire the victim of the retaliatory negative employment reference. In that case, Guangyu Wang (Wang) sued his former employer, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), for retaliation under Title VII. Wang claimed that NSHE violated Title VII by giving a negative employment reference in retaliation for having filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and having filed an employment discrimination lawsuit.

During his employment with NSHE, Wang worked as a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine. After his employment was terminated, Wang filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC against NSHE. After exhausting his administrative remedies with the EEOC, Wang then filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against NSHE. Wang and NSHE eventually settled the employment discrimination lawsuit.

After the employment discrimination lawsuit was settled, Wang alleged that his former supervisor, an employee named Buxton, retaliated against him for filing the EEOC charge of discrimination and the employment discrimination lawsuit by giving a negative employment reference about him to a hiring official at the University of California (UC). In support of his assertion, Wang pointed to testimony from the hiring official at UC. The hiring official testified that he had received a “very animated call” from Buxton telling him that there “had been a problem” with Wang and that Wang had sued NSHE. Another UC employee testified at the hearing that the hiring official had concerns about hiring Wang after learning of Buxton’s negative reference. Despite Buxton’s negative reference, UC chose to hire Wang.

Retaliatory Negative Job Reference Letter Is Unlawful

Armed with this evidence, Wang filed a motion with the trial court requesting a ruling that NSHE violated Title VII by giving a negative employment reference about him in retaliation for having filed the EEOC charge of discrimination and the employment discrimination lawsuit. The trial court granted Wang’s motion and found that NSHE violated Title VII by disseminating a retaliatory negative employment reference about Wang. In doing so, the trial court rejected NSHE’s argument that Wang could not establish a Title VII violation because UC hired Wang despite the allegedly retaliatory employment reference. The trial court explained that “the retaliatory dissemination of a negative employment reference violates Title VII even if the negative reference does not affect the prospective employer’s decision not to hire the victim of the discriminatory action.” In other words, the trial court observed, the dissemination of a retaliatory employment reference violates Title VII even if the retaliatory employment reference turns “out to be inconsequential.”

Free Consultation With Gainesville Retaliation Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have extensive experience representing victims of employment retaliation. If you have been the victim of a retaliatory negative job reference or have questions about your protection against retaliation under employment discrimination laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Alachua County, Florida retaliation attorneys. 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.

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