If you complain to your employer about discriminatory conduct or harassment in your workplace, even if you are not directly involved, and you are fired as a result, you may be able to sustain a claim for retaliation. Retaliation doesn't mean simply that you were discharged for making a complaint. It means almost any negative action by your employer against you (or even against a family member or friend) in response to your complaint about discrimination, or for participating as a witness in someone else's discrimination case. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently defined retaliation quite broadly, to include any conduct by an employer that would tend to deter reasonable people from pursuing their rights.
A recent case looked at whether an employee who was terminated because of her friendship with former employee who claimed unlawful harassment could bring a claim for retaliation. In the sexual harassment lawsuit, EEOC v. Fred Fuller Oil Co., the court reviewed whether the relationship between two friends could support a claim for retaliation. In this instance one friend quit after she was subjected to numerous sexual overtures at work. She later filed a criminal charge against the assailant, However, she also remained friends with a co-worker. When the alleged harasser realized that the two were still hanging out together, the co-worker was fired.
Previous cases had found that a retaliation claim could be sustained for firing an employee who complained about a "close family member". This case involved friends rather than family members. The employer asked the court to throw out the case, claiming that the relationship was casual, and was not close enough to justify a causal relationship between the complaint and the friend's firing. The court, however, decided that there was enough evidence demonstrating a close relationship between the two, and that a jury should decide whether the friend was fired because of the relationship.
The takeaway? If you are retaliated against for reporting discrimination or harassment of a close friend, be sure to be able to demonstrate the closeness of your relationship. You may then be protected under Title VII.
If you believe you may have suffered any type of employment discrimination, please contact the attorneys at Schwartz and Perry LLP.