There are several federal and state laws requiring that employers do not retaliate against employees for engaging in protected activity. For instance, under federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which applies to employers with 20 or more employees, prohibit employers from taking any adverse employment action against an employee who has engaged in protected activity.
For instance, Title VII specifically provides that:
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, an employee or applicant must show that (1) he/she employee engaged in an activity protected under the law; (2) he/she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and courts have found that an employee or applicant engages in protected activity when using the employer’s internal reporting mechanism to complain about unlawful employment practices carried out by the employer or its agents. The same is true of informal complaints to a supervisor. See Rollins v. Fla. Dep’t of Law Enf’t, 868 F.2d 397, 400 (11th Cir. 1989).
For example, an internal report of a hostile work environment based on a protected classification (gender, race, etc.) are generally protected, as well as a report alleging retaliation for engaging in earlier protected activity. Other actions opposing discrimination are typically protected as long as the employee or applicant was acting on a reasonable belief that the company was violating an employment law. The employee’s or applicant’s belief must be objectively reasonable in light of the circumstances.
Engaging in activity regarding an employer’s equal opportunity practices, however, does not render an employee immune from discipline or discharge. An employer may discipline or discharge an employee for any reason or no reason at all as long as the decision is not motivated by retaliatory animus.
There are similar protections under Florida state law. For instance, the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”), which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, offers similar protections to Title VII. When addressing claims under the FCRA, Florida courts follow the analysis under Title VII.
Retaliation claims are very fact specific. Lawyers from BT Law Group have extensive experience advising clients about, and litigating, claims of retaliation. If you believe you have been retaliated against or need advice regarding the investigation or defense of such claims, then contact the attorneys at BT Law Group for a consultation