Employer retaliation against employee for anti-discrimination activity

It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who reports discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

Most people want to do what is right. If illegal employment discrimination or harassment based on a protected characteristic like gender, race, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy and others occurs at work, an employee should feel comfortable reporting the activity to management or cooperating as a witness in an investigation or lawsuit.

When a worker is the target or victim of unlawful discrimination or harassment, he or she should feel safe bringing it to the attention of his or her supervisor or to human resources personnel or speaking to a lawyer about potential legal remedies.

Anti-discrimination laws also give employees the right to receive reasonable accommodations in the workplace for disabilities or for religious practices. An eligible person should be able to make a reasonable request for accommodation under these circumstances.

The unfortunate reality is that employers more often than most people realize retaliate against employees who take action to protect themselves or others from being the targets of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, or for requesting reasonable accommodations.

Probably surprising to some, retaliation was alleged in almost half of all discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC in FY 2015, making retaliation the agency's most common discrimination charge received that year.

Retaliation against an employee or job applicant for reporting such activity to management; for participating in an investigation of the matter; for requesting reasonable accommodations; for refusing to follow an employer's order that is discriminatory; or for filing or acting as a witness in a legal claim for discrimination or harassment before a government agency or a court is against federal and California state law, under which these are protected activities.

The fear of retaliation, also called adverse action or reprisal, in these circumstances may cause victims and colleagues to stay silent, which wrongly suppresses bringing discrimination and harassment to light for correction and prosecution. The legal procedures set up to provide recourse and stop employers from such actions will not be effective if people are afraid to speak up for fear of being fired, not hired, demoted, threatened or harassed; of losing perks, benefits, promotions or assignments; of receiving unwarranted negative evaluation or references; or of having any other term or condition of employment negatively impacted by retaliatory conduct of employers.

Retaliation under federal and state anti-discrimination in employment laws is very complicated. Anyone suspecting retaliation as a direct victim or as a colleague engaging in protected activity should speak with a lawyer about his or her legal rights and potential legal remedies like a complaint to a government agency or a retaliation lawsuit.

San Francisco attorney Daniel Feder of The Law Offices of Daniel Feder represents employees in retaliation claims as well as in a wide array of related employment law matters such as illegal discrimination or harassment.