Can my employer be held accountable for retaliation after a complaint about a verbally abusive co-worker?

My co-worker got verbally abused in front of 2 managers and neither of them did anything about it. That same co-worker was then verbally abusive to me. I confronted the co-worker, my supervisor, HR and my director. My director was dismissive wit my complaint. Now I have been facing retailiation for the past year and have documentation. I work for a public utility company. Do I have the necessary information to file a lawsuit since my employer was aware of the verbal abuse and didn’t do anything about it?

Asked on July 4, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, South Dakota

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

There is no protection from verbal abuse by a coworker, or for retaliation for making any complaints to a supervisor or management, except as per 1) or 2) below; therefore, unless 1) or 2) apply, the employer can let a co-worker abuse you, does not need to act on your complaint or take it seriously, and *can* legally retaliate or allow a co-worker/manager to retaliate against you for a complaint. As a general matter, since "employment at will" is the law of this country, an employee has no right to a job and no protection at work.
That said:
1) If the verbal abuse was directed at you due to your race, color, national origin, age 40 or over, religion, sex, or disability (e.g. if you are African American, racist comments were made to or about you) and the employer refused to take reasonable and appropriate action about it after it was reported to them, or worse, retaliated against you for bringing it to their attention, you may have a claim for illegal workplaced discrimation. The law prohibits harassment or discrimination based on the above characteristics, requires employers to investigate and take reasonable actions, and bars retaliation for bringing a complaint of this nature. If you believe that this is illegal workplace discrimination or harassment or retailation, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, to file a complaint.
2) If you have a written employment contract for a definite term (e.g. a one-year contract) which has not expired, or you are covered by a still-in-effect union agreement, you have whatever protections against harassment or retaliation and whatever rights the contract gives you. If you have such a contract and it is being violated, you could bring a "breach of contract" lawsuit (and/or your union, if you are in one, may be able to help).


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