Illinois 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Slowly Defining What Constitutes Retaliation in the Workplace
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) November 6, 2012 - Retaliation in the workplace is an issue that often generates acrimonious debate.
“Retaliation in the workplace for filing a complaint about discrimination is illegal,” outlined Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace, “and the standard of proof to show retaliation is extremely low.”
To prove retaliation, an employee has to show that a reasonable worker would have been put off complaining, if they knew how the employer would react. There are a number of examples of retaliation that include suspension, transferring the individual to a less desirable position, and termination, and these days, the court dockets are packed with retaliation lawsuits.
In order to expedite hearing such cases, the courts are beginning to refine their definition of retaliation. One case in point is a 7th Circuit decision, Smith v. Sebelius, No. 11-3335, 7th Cir., 2012), that stated scrutinizing someone’s work more closely after a complaint does not constitute retaliation.
In this case, the employee worked for the government and was given a swipe card to track her entry and exit from the workplace. Her supervisor pointed out she regularly left work at least 40 minutes early and arrived more than ten minutes late quite often. She was suspended under protest, and filed an EEOC complaint.
During the first case, the woman started another position, with a new supervisor, and was also suspended for leaving early and arriving late. The employee then filed a second EEOC complaint. Her new supervisor also criticized her work and suggested she may be placed on an improvement plan. This remark prompted her to file a retaliation lawsuit.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit said a reasonable worker would not have been put off filing an internal complaint if she thought her work would be scrutinized once she had filed the complaint. The court dismissed the case.
“One other point that is important to note with this case is that the court pointed out that the woman did not have anything that proved her claim that her two suspensions were discriminatory. She was not able to name anyone else who was absent as much as she was who had not been penalized or punished,” Coffey explained.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com
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