Woman Fired for Backing Coworker’s Age Discrimination Claim
Employee collects $100K after suing company for retaliation
A coworker decides to sue your employer for discrimination. You’re
asked to testify on his or her behalf. While you think that your colleague
has a valid claim, you’re worried that speaking out against the
company could put your job in jeopardy.
This kind of scenario plays out frequently in the workplace. Even though
the law offers protection from retaliation, it’s not unusual for
workers to find themselves jobless after opposing illegal action on the
part of the company.
Let’s take a look at a case in which a worker was fired for backing
a coworker’s discrimination claim, and then we’ll discuss
was employees need to know about retaliation.
Fired for speaking up
Mary Goulet had a tough decision to make.
One of her coworkers at Goodwill Industries was suing the company. The
woman alleged that she’d been discriminated against because of her
age and gender. The coworker knew that Goulet had witnessed some of the
potentially unlawful treatment she’d had to endure, so she asked
Goulet to testify on her behalf.
Goulet agreed to help. At the trial, she took the stand and answered several
questions about what she had witnessed at work.
Not long after that, Goulet was fired.
She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination
laws. It filed a lawsuit on Goulet’s behalf, alleging that she had
been fired in retaliation for participating in her coworker’s legal battle.
The company attempted to have the case thrown out. However, after it became
clear that the case was likely to proceed to a jury trial, the company
decided to settle.
Goulet was awarded $100,000. In addition, the company was forced to modify
certain rules related to its discrimination and retaliation policies.
(The case discussed here is
EEOC v. Goodwill Industries.)
What is retaliation?
Federal law protects employees from retaliation after they complain about
what they believe to be illegal discrimination. Individuals who assist
others in their discrimination complaints, as in this case, are generally
afforded the same consideration.
Retaliation may play out in multiple ways other than termination. For example,
any “adverse employment action” could be considered retaliation,
i.e., any action that unfavorably changes the terms and conditions of
a person’s employment. That may include:
- refusal to hire or promote
- unjustified negative evaluations or references
- increased oversight
- assaults or criminal activity
However, it’s important to keep in mind that determining what is
and is not retaliation can be complicated.
If you believe that you’ve been the victim of unlawful employment
retaliation, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.