Can my employer retaliate against me for filing a claim with the EEOC?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for filing a sexual harassment or discrimination charge with the EEOC. It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against someone who files a charge of discrimination, participates in an investigation, or opposes discriminatory practices. Individuals who believe that they have been retaliated against should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a lawyer immediately.

Even if you have filed a charge of discrimination or sexual harassment, you will need to file a new charge based on retaliation. The United States Supreme Court recently held in the case of Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White (2006) that the standard for what constitutes “retaliation” is very broad. Essentially, any action that an employer intentionally takes that would “dissuade” a “reasonable employee” from making or supporting a charge of discrimination or sexual harassment is retaliation.

Protections for those who Oppose Discrimination

Regardless of the right being protected, such as freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex, or discrimination on the basis of disability, or race, or religious affiliation, the act of protecting these rights is, by virtue of its own existence, protected from retaliation provoked by protecting those rights. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects not just actions of opposition, but the people who do the opposing.

To be covered against retaliation, it’s important to understand what types of actions are considered “protected activities” under the EEOC. Informing an employer that he or she is engaging in prohibited discrimination, participating in employment discrimination proceedings, requesting reasonable accommodations on the grounds of disability or religion, and of course filing a charge with the EEOC, are all among the covered types of activities.

Opposing Unlawful Acts: Adverse Actions by Employers

If you are a covered individual engaging in a protected activity (such as filing a charge with the EEOC), then you are protected against adverse actions, or retaliation, by the employer. “Adverse actions” refer to any actions taken by employers to prevent or dissuade the covered individual from continuing to oppose the unlawful discrimination. Adverse actions include termination, unjust denial of promotion or bonuses, increased unjustified evaluations or negative references, and any conduct that would otherwise be grounds for a civil or criminal charge such as threats or assault.

Contacting the EEOC if You Believe an Employer Has Retaliated Against You

If you believe you have been retaliated against for filing a claim, you should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) immediately. You should also consult with an employment lawyer as soon as possible. Even if you have already contacted the EEOC and think that that contact is the reason for the retaliation against you, don’t assume that you are done. You should contact the EEOC and lodge another complaint. Your first claim may have been based on discrimination or sexual harassment, but your second claim will be based on retaliation.

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