EVERFI Content Team

Example of a Workplace Retaliation Case

Ebrima Jallow, who is Gambian and Muslim, is employed at a large discount retail chain as an asset protection coordinator.

Jallow’s store manager doesn’t like him and makes it known through numerous offensive comments.

After Jallow complains about the harassment, the store manager retaliates. He threatens to fire Jallow and places him on a one-year probationary period. He also advises other employees to not cooperate with Jallow.

As a result, Jallow goes to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) where he and the EEOC file a lawsuit against the retail chain.

The suit alleges that not only did his manager harass him based on his national origin and religion but that the manager also used intimidation and humiliation to retaliate against him.

And the courts agreed that the manager was guilty of harassment AND retaliation. So among other penalties, they ordered the retail chain to pay Jallow $75,000.

By the way, this was a real workplace retaliation case.

What Is Workplace Retaliation?

Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in legally protected activity, such as advocating for their rights to be free from employment discrimination, a discriminatory workplace culture, violations of laws intended to protect health and safety, or acting as a whistleblower.

This punishment can include any negative job action, such as demotion, discipline, firing, salary reduction, or job or shift reassignment, as well as more subtle actions that may be detrimental to certain employees in specific circumstances.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, as long as the employer’s adverse action would deter a reasonable person in the situation from making a complaint, it constitutes illegal retaliation.

6 Signs of Retaliation at Work

So what adverse actions should you be on the lookout for if you file a complaint for retaliation at work?

1. You’re Excluded or Left Out

Unfortunately, the silent treatment doesn’t always stop after grade school. In fact, it’s one of the ways co-workers might exclude you from conversations related to work. And if you notice that all your co-workers are in a meeting, but you’re still sitting at your desk, that’s another clue they’re leaving you out.

Do you remember the famous scene from “Office Space” where Milton has to move his desk down into the basement? It wasn’t because he made a complaint, but if the same thing happens to you, it’s likely you are being retaliated against.

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2. You’re Reassigned to a Different Shift or Department

Another retaliation tactic is to move an employee to a different department or switch their shift. Previously, were you working in the marketing department creating campaigns, and now you are stuck pulling reception duties?

Or maybe you work at a call center on the day shift. Suddenly after filing a complaint, your manager switches you to the graveyard shift. These situations make your life more difficult — a common goal of retaliation in the workplace.

3. You’re Passed Over for a Promotion or Raise

You’ve applied for an internal promotion. Your supervisor gave you a glowing recommendation. And the new department you’d be working in has all but guaranteed you the job.

Then, you filed your complaint with human resources. An employee was making sexist comments to you — an employee that happens to be friends with someone in the new department.

Next thing you know, a junior employee with much less experience was promoted, and no one will tell you why. Your supervisor gives you the cold shoulder when you ask him and no one from the other department is answering your emails. Sounds like retaliation for filing that complaint.

4. Your Pay or Hours are Cut

Maybe you don’t have to move anywhere and you get to keep doing your same job. But then out of nowhere, your position with the company is in jeopardy. The only way you can save your job is to take a pay cut.

Strange how no one else in your department had to take a cut in their salary. And it’s even stranger when a co-worker you just finished a project with received a bonus.

Another retaliation tactic is to dramatically reduce your hours. You work the counter at a sandwich shop for an average of 30 hours a week. But then after you file a complaint, you notice that you’re only working 25 hours. Then it goes down to 15 hours, and finally, you’re down to 10 hours.

Taking away your opportunity to work is as bad as cutting your pay, but it’s much less obvious.

5. You Encounter More Harassment or Bullying

It’s not uncommon to experience more harassment or bullying after filing a complaint.

For example, if you file a sexual harassment complaint against a well-liked supervisor, other people in the company might start rumors that you made the whole thing up because you want attention.

You might also encounter intimidation tactics. For example, a supervisor informing you that if you continue to pursue action, you’ll be fired. Or you might get anonymous emails or notes that encourage you to drop your complaint.

6. You’re Fired from Your Job

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Say you file a complaint because your employer isn’t paying men and women the same salary even though they’re doing the same work. Next thing you know, you’re out of a job.

Terminating your employment with the company is one of the most severe retaliation tactics, but it happens. And if that termination is because of your complaint, it’s retaliation.

Retaliation Complaints are on the Rise

The good news is that more and more employees are recognizing the signs and understanding how to prove retaliation at work. Over the years, the number of retaliation claims has significantly increased. In 2014 alone, 42.8 percent of all allegations the EEOC received were retaliation claims.

So if you experience:

  • Exclusion
  • Reassignment
  • Advancement blocking
  • Pay Cuts
  • Bullying
  • Termination

It might be workplace retaliation. And if so, be aware that you’re covered under workplace retaliation law.

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