Proving Retaliation When An Employer Fails To Offer An Explanation For An Employee’s Discharge
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from retaliation for complaining about discrimination or harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment. In the context of a retaliatory discharge claim under Title VII, an employer is obligated to articulate a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the employee’s termination. The employer’s burden is to present admissible evidence of the actual reason for the discharge. As the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Stratton v. Dep’t for the Aging for the City of N.Y., 132 F.3d 869 (2d Cir. 1997) explained, the “purpose” of requiring an employer to proffer a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the termination “is to force the defendant to give an explanation for its conduct[.]”
Having long represented employees who were retaliated against for complaining about discrimination or harassment in the workplace, our Central Florida retaliation attorneys have learned that employers frequently contend that the employee quit and was not fired. In doing so, employers often will not proffer a reason for firing the employee because they deny doing so. The decision in Westendorf v. West Coast Contractors of Nevada, 712 F.3d 417 (9th Cir. 2013) illustrates that when there is evidence that the employee was fired and the employer offers no reason for the discharge, the employer’s failure to proffer a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the termination is evidence of retaliation and enables the employee to present his or her retaliation claim to a jury for resolution.
Company President Tired Of Complaints
In that case, Jennifer Westendorf (Westendorf) claimed that her former employer, West Coast Contractors (West Coast) fired her in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment. Westendorf alleged that she was sexually harassed by two male employees. According to Westendorf, the sexually harassing behavior included remarks about her breasts, sexual comments, and sexist remarks. Westendorf alleged that despite her repeated complaints to the company president about the behavior, the unwanted sexually harassing behavior continued unabated in its frequency and severity.
After her final sexual harassment complaint, the company president told Westendorf that “he was tired of listing to all of this and that obviously she had a problem getting along with [one of the harassers] and that it would be best if she got her personal items and left.” The company president and two other employees then escorted Westendorf from the building. Westendorf testified that she was fired. The company president testified that Westendorf quit. The company president further testified that he would not rehire Westendorf because she allegedly refused to follow instructions from one of the harassers.
The trial court dismissed Westendorf’s retaliation claim. In doing so, the trial court concluded that Westendorf did not establish that West Coast’s proffered legitimate, non-retaliatory reason was a pretext for retaliation. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit rejected the trial court’s conclusion as meritless and reinstated Westendorf’s retaliation claim.
No Evidence Of Reason For Firing Sexual Harassment Victim
In reversing the trial court, the Ninth Circuit explained that West Coast “did not offer any evidence of its reason for firing Westendorf because it denied doing so.” In fact, the appellate court pointed out, the company president specifically denied firing Westendorf. Because the only explanation proffered by West Coast for Westendorf’s separation from employment was that she quit, the appellate court held that the evidence supported a finding that the company president fired Westendorf because she complained about sexual harassment. In other words, because West Coast failed to satisfy its burden of articulating a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for Westendorf’s termination, a jury could reasonably conclude that her termination was motivated by retaliation. The Ninth Circuit further explained that even if West Coast had proffered a reason for terminating Westendorf, a jury could reasonably find that the proffered reason was a pretext for retaliation because “she had no record of insubordination until she complained about sexual harassment.”
Free Consultation With Central Florida Retaliation Attorneys
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have extensive experience representing employees who have been retaliated against for complaining about discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If you have been retaliated against for complaining about discrimination or harassment at work, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Central Florida retaliation lawyers. Our employee rights law firm takes employment 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.