- Global Ministries in Atlanta violated federal law when it fired an employee for reporting race discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit.
- The religious institution allegedly fired a communications specialist/program area liaison, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after she complained to HR about discriminatory and retaliatory treatment.
- "Firing employees because they exercise their rights to complain about discrimination is a clear violation of federal law. We will continue to vigorously enforce the right of employees to speak out against discrimination without fear of losing their jobs," Darrell Graham, director for EEOC's Atlanta District Office, said.
It is illegal for employers to punish employees for taking advantage of the protections offered by equal employment opportunity laws. For example, it is unlawful to retaliate against employees for filing charges with the EEOC or a lawsuit alleging workplace discrimination.
Retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in the federal sector and the most common discrimination finding in federal sector cases, according to the EEOC. Courts have found that retaliation occurred even in cases where there was no finding of discrimination.
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 actually making, reports to authorities (such as reporting immigration status or contacting the police); increasing scrutiny; spreading false rumors; treating a family member negatively (for example, canceling a contract with the person's spouse); or making the person's work more difficult (for example, punishing an employee for an EEO complaint by purposefully changing his work schedule to conflict with family responsibilities).
Fisher Phillips Regional Managing Partner Christine Howard recommended at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 Annual Conference that employers screen the managers overseeing employees involved in protected activity for "retaliation red flags" such as increased supervision or monitoring, new performance issues, higher standards or expectations, and supervisor complaints about the employee.
HR can take several steps, Howard said, to help prevent retaliation at work:
- Implement and publicize a retaliation policy. Employers should have a standalone policy forbidding managers from retaliating against employees for carrying out protected activity. It's best if workplaces combine the policy with multiple avenues for employees to complain about discrimination and retaliation.
- Document retaliation-related activity. Employers need to document all instances of complaints, discipline, and follow-up.
- Highlight retaliation in training.
- Encourage complaints.
Employers don't have to exempt workers involved in protected activity from legitimate discipline, but they may want to be careful. If an employee has engaged in protected activity but discipline is warranted, managers and supervisors should have strong documentation, including a clear record of the facts that justify the disciplinary action.