Protect Your Rights with a Maryland Workplace Retaliation Lawyer
All employees have certain rights under state and federal law. Many Maryland workers may be reluctant to assert those rights for fear of adverse action by their employer. This is why workplace retaliation claims are actually among the more frequent legal problems confronted in employment discrimination law. If you were the victim of retaliation, you have a right to seek legal help with an experienced Maryland workplace retaliation lawyer.
Attorney Jamaal (“Jay”) W. Stafford and his litigation team know how to protect employees from employers who abuse the law.
At The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C., we can help if your employer has attempted to punish you for reporting illegal discrimination or otherwise invoking your rights under the law. Both private sector and government employees are subject to anti-retaliation provisions of civil rights laws. Even if your underlying discrimination case has been dismissed or disposed of, your employer can be held separately liable for any acts of retaliation. In fact, you may be a victim of workplace retaliation even if you were not directly the target of discrimination.
What is a “Protected Activity” Under the Law?
Retaliation refers to any situation where an employer takes a materially adverse action against an employee (or job applicant) because they engaged in a “protected activity” under federal or state equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws. Retaliation may be preemptive. In other words, if an employer maintains a policy that discourages the exercise of EEO rights, that in and of itself may constitute retaliation, even if no employee has filed a discrimination claim.
A “protected activity” essentially means engaging the legal process to pursue an employment discrimination case. In most instances, an employee who is the victim of discrimination must first file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the corresponding state agency, such as the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. An employer cannot fire, transfer, demote, or in any way make an employee’s working life more difficult because he or she filed a discrimination complaint.
Retaliation even extends to threats or statements outside the scope of employment. For example, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee who may be an undocumented worker by threatening to report them to federal immigration authorities. Nor can an employer take a retaliatory action against a member of the employee’s family.
How Do I Know if I Have a Workplace Retaliation Claim?
If you believe that you have been illegally retaliated against, you must show three key elements to prevail on a workplace retaliation claim:
- You engaged in a protected activity,
- Your employer took an adverse action against you, and
- There was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action
We will explain each of these elements in more detail below.
(1) You Engaged in a Protected Activity
There are two types of “protected activities” for workplace retaliation purposes: (a) participating in the formal legal processes for workplace discrimination or harassment claims, and (b) opposing workplace discrimination and harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) categorizes these actions as “participation” and “opposition,” respectively. Examples of participation can include:
- Filing a workplace discrimination or harassment complaint with the relevant government agency
- Serving as a witness in a discrimination or harassment investigation
- Recording and submitting evidence of alleged discrimination or harassment
Employees are also protected from retaliation for informal opposition to illegal employment practices, which can include:
- Complaining about alleged discrimination to coworkers or management
- Refusing to obey an order the employee believes to be discriminatory
- Advising an employer on applicable EEO non-discrimination laws
- Resisting sexual advances or protecting others from sexual advances
- Requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability or for religious purposes
The line between “participation” and “opposition” can often be blurry. Contact a Maryland employment attorney to find out whether your actions fall into either of these categories.
(2) Your Employer Took Adverse Action Against You
An adverse action for workplace retaliation purposes is one that is “materially adverse” — meaning any action that would deter a reasonable person from engaging in a protected activity. Some common examples of actions that are considered to be materially adverse are:
- Unreasonable scrutiny of work habits
- Reprimands or negative evaluations
- Assignment of undesirable work duties
- Transfer to a less desirable or convenient location
(3) There Was a Causal Connection between the Protected Activity and the Adverse Action
For employees in the private sector and state and local governments, the courts use a “but for” analysis when determining causation, meaning that the employee must show that the employer would not have taken the action but for a retaliatory motive. In other words, you must demonstrate that your employer would not have taken the adverse action if you had not engaged in the protected activity. For federal employees, the courts use a “motivating factor” analysis, which requires the employee merely to show that a retaliatory motive was one of, but necessarily the primary, factor underlying the employer’s adverse action.
It can often be difficult to establish but for causation. As such, you should seek the advice of a Maryland employment attorney if you are unsure whether the nexus between your actions and your employer’s adverse action is strong enough to warrant a workplace retaliation claim.
Evidence of Workplace Retaliation
It is often difficult to prove that an employer retaliated against you, since doing so requires a certain degree of speculation as to the employer’s state of mind at the time he or she took the adverse action. However, a few tell-tale signs that your employer has engaged in retaliation include:
- The adverse action occurred soon after you engaged in the protected activity
- Oral or written statements by the employer that reveal retaliatory intent
- Pretextual explanations for the adverse action that fall apart easily
- Inconsistent, contradictory, or changing explanations as to why your employer took the adverse action
- Treating other employees who did not engage in a protected activity more favorably
- Sudden changes in your employer’s demeanor toward you that negatively impact your working relationship
- Negative performance evaluations not accompanied by a decline in the quality of your work
Protect Yourself Against Illegal Retaliation With the Help of a Maryland Workplace Retaliation Lawyer
Beyond direct retaliation against an employee who files a complaint, employers can also run afoul of the law by interfering with the investigatory and legal process. Among other things, an employer cannot order employees to refuse to cooperate with a discrimination investigation – or to give false testimony in a formal proceeding – or discipline employees who refuse to follow orders to engage in any type of illegal activity.
Obviously, when an employer condones or participates in illegal workplace discrimination, it is unlikely to be a willing participant in a legal process designed to uncover and punish such wrongdoing. This further emphasizes the need to contact a Maryland workplace retaliation lawyer if you plan to pursue a complaint against your employer. Attorney Jamaal (“Jay”) W. Stafford and his litigation team know how to protect employees from employers who abuse the law. Contact or call The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. today at 410-514-6099 to schedule a consultation.