What Is The Most Compelling Evidence Of A Retaliatory Termination?
Having represented wrongful termination victims for more than twenty years, our wrongful termination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida know that the most compelling evidence of a retaliatory termination is the timing between an employee’s complaint about unlawful discrimination and the employee’s termination. Employers with retaliatory animus, our wrongful termination lawyers in Inverness, Florida have learned, generally do not wait around to punish employees who exercise their employee rights. In this article, our wrongful termination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida explain how the decision in Xiong v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, Case No. 22-1271 (7th Cir. March 9, 2023) illustrates that employees can show they are a victim of a retaliatory termination when they are fired shortly after complaining about perceived discrimination in the workplace.
Timing As Evidence Of Retaliation
In order to prove a retaliation claim, employees are required to prove, among other things, that there is a causal connection between their discrimination complaint and their termination. The most compelling piece of evidence used to establish a causal relationship between the two events is timing. When an employee is fired shortly after complaining about perceived workplace discrimination, a causal relationship between the two events can be inferred from timing alone. An inference of causation on the basis of close timing is authorized because the closer the two events are, the more likely that complaint caused the termination. Most courts rule that a time period of two months or less between the two events is sufficient, standing alone, to support an inference of causation between the two events. The inference of causation, however, weakens as time between the discrimination complaint and the termination increases. When there is a substantial amount of time between the discrimination complaint and the termination, the employee must come up with additional evidence to establish a causal relationship between the two events.
Retaliatory Termination Lawsuit
In Xiong, a man named Xiong brought a retaliatory termination claim against her former employer, the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System (the University), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII protects employees from retaliation when they complain about perceived workplace discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, or religion. Xiong claims that that he was fired in retaliation for complaining about race discrimination.
In October 2018, Xiong was hired by the University to work at its Oshkosh campus as its Director of Affirmative Action. This position entailed ensuring that the campus complied with the University’s affirmative action plan and developing policies consistent with that plan. Xiong reported to the Associate Vice Chancellor of Human Resources (Chancellor of HR).
In February and March 2019, Xiong attempted to hire a new training and compliance officer to work under him. The search committee interviewed two white women and one Latina woman, Aguilera. Xiong, who had the final say on who to hire, selected Aguilera because she had a law degree and would add diversity to the HR department, which was primarily white.
The Chancellor of HR, however, questioned Xiong’s judgment. On March 1, 2019, the Chancellor of HR emailed Xiong to slow the hiring process because she had heard concerns about Aguilera from others who had interviewed her. This prompted an in-person meeting on March 4, 2019 between Xiong and the Chancellor of HR, the recollections of which contradict each other. Xiong recalls the Chancellor of HR saying “people of color are not a good fit” for human resources. The Chancellor of HR denies saying anything like that.
Race Discrimination Complaint
A flurry of emails followed this meeting. The Chancellor of HR first requested that Xiong schedule follow-up interviews with the candidates for the new training and compliance position. Xiong responded by copying the Chancellor of HR’s supervisor, Fletcher, and insinuating that race was the motivating factor for the Chancellor of HR questioning Xiong’s selectin of Aguilera. In a separate email to Fletcher the next day, Xiong demanded that he no longer report to the Chancellor of HR.
On March 6, 2019, Xiong and Fletcher met to dismiss the hiring situation and Xiong’s demand for a change in reporting structure. Xiong shared what the Chancellor of HR allegedly said about people of color and not being a good fit in HR, though Fletcher denies ever hearing about that specific comment. Xiong says he also raised broader concerns about the HR department’s hiring and promotion policies, expressing the view that the University could face legal liability. In response to all of this, Fletcher recalls saying that he hoped that Xiong and the Chancellor of HR could work out their problems.
The next day, March 7, 2019, Fletcher stated that he had decided to fire Xiong, subject to a review of any positive information in his written performance review. After confirming that he was not missing anything, Fletcher terminated Xiong on March 12, 2019. Fletcher explained that he made the decision due to both Xiong’s insubordination and his poor work performance.
Close Timing Reflects Retaliation
The trial court dismissed Xiong’s retaliation claim. The trial court ruled that Xiong had not presented sufficient evidence to establish a causal connection between his race discrimination complaint and his termination. On appeal, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Xiong’s retaliation claim.
Unlike the reversed trial court, the Seventh Circuit focused on the close timing between Xiong’s race discrimination complaint and his termination. The appellate court observed that the Chancellor of HR allegedly told Xiong on March 4, 2019 that “people of color are not a good fit” for human resources. Xiong then met with Fletcher two days later, the court of appeals noted, and “shared what the Chancellor of HR had purportedly said, voiced his concerns about the HR department’s discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, and reported that all of this could lead to legal liability.” Just one day after Xiong met with Fletcher and complained about discrimination on the basis of race, the court of appeals pointed out, Fletcher “made the tentative decision to fire Xiong.” “This close temporal proximity,” the appellate court reasoned, “alone can give rise to a finding of causation” between Xiong’s race discrimination complaint and his termination. Thus, the Seventh Circuit concluded that “we have little trouble in concluding that a jury could infer causation when merely one day passes between the [discrimination complaint] and the adverse employment action.”
Free Consultation For Employees
One of the most critical decisions wrongful termination victims must make is which wrongful termination attorneys to consult with regarding their rights and remedies under federal employment law. As part of our dedication to fighting for the rights of wrongful termination victims, an experienced wrongful termination attorney will speak with you personally and you will receive the individualized attention your case deserves. We offer free confidential case evaluations for wrongful termination victims, and you will not have to pay to speak with our wrongful termination lawyers regarding your rights. We are available for consultation at your convenience, including scheduling telephone consultations for evenings and weekends.
Citrus County Wrongful Termination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our wrongful termination attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have represented wrongful termination victims for more than twenty years. If you have been wrongfully terminated or have questions about your rights as a wrongful termination victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with wrongful termination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes wrongful termination 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.