Alleged murder plot wasn't retaliation, 7th Cir. says
- An employee's allegation that she was the target of a murder plot was too oblique for a jury to conclude that she was subjected to severe or pervasive harassment, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded (Flanagan v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, et al., No. 16-1927 (June 15, 2018)).
- A probation officer, Kimberly Flanagan, filed suit, alleging that two co-workers threatened her life because she had previously sued their employer for discrimination and retaliation. Flanagan won the retaliation claim in 2007. While that case was on appeal, Flanagan claimed that her boss threatened to hit her in the parking lot and coordinated with a co-worker to get her alone to cause her physical harm. She sued, alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964.
- The district court granted summary judgment for the employer, and the appeal court affirmed. Some of the evidence on which Flanagan relied was admissible hearsay, the court said. And, turning to the merits of the case, the court said that a jury could not reasonably conclude that Flanagan had been subjected to a retaliatory hostile work environment.
Federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against workers for asserting their rights under those laws. EEOC says retaliatory acts can include reprimanding the employee or giving a performance evaluation that is lower than it should be; transferring the employee to a less desirable position; engaging in verbal or physical abuse; threatening to make or making reports to authorities such as reporting immigration status or contacting the police; increasing scrutiny; or making the person's work more difficult by, for example, punishing an employee for an EEO complaint by purposefully changing his or her work schedule to conflict with family responsibilities.
And because retaliation is the most common claim filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers may need to work to ensure such actions are avoided. Manager training can play an important role in preventing discrimination and harassment, experts say. But HR must take all complaints seriously, too. Doing so can prevent retaliation claims, according to employment law attorneys, even if the complaint is ultimately deemed meritless.
In writing about Flanagan, FisherBroyles attorney Eric B. Meyer recommended that an employer, upon receiving an internal complaint of discrimination or an EEOC charge, remind all parties involved that they cannot retaliate against the complainant.
- 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Flanagan v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, et al.
- The Employer Handbook Court concludes that two co-workers’ alleged plot to murder an employee-plaintiff was not retaliation