What employees need to know about unlawful retaliation

It’s unfortunate but it’s true: Many employees simply put up with unlawful behavior from their employers out of fear.

They’re afraid that if they complain they’ll be fired or their managers will make their lives miserable.

That’s why it’s important to know that federal law provides protection from retaliation. Essentially, that means that if you make a complaint and wind up with the proverbial target on your back afterwards, you may have legal recourse.

One recent case illustrates how retaliation can play out and what workers can do if it happens to them.

Called Out Unequal Pay

Tera Lopez was a project manager at Hobson Bearing International. She suspected that women were not being paid equally with men who were doing the same work, so she complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC investigated and then Lopez filed a lawsuit against the company.

Not long after that, the company filed a counter-suit against Lopez. The charge: malicious prosecution.

Lopez went back to the EEOC. This time, the agency sued Hobson on her behalf, claiming that the company retaliated against her because of her complaint.

The company lost. In its opinion, the court pointed out that employees who complain about unlawful or perceived unlawful activity are protected from discrimination as a result of those complaints. Therefore, the company violated federal law by suing Lopez over her complaint.

The company was ordered to pay Lopez $37,500 in damages and to completely dismiss its lawsuit against her. It was also barred from filing any other lawsuits or counterclaims against Lopez based on her complaint to the EEOC.

(The case discussed here is EEOC v. Hobson Bearing International, Inc.)

Don’t Be Afraid of Exercising Your Rights

As this case shows, companies that attempt to “get back” at employees who complain about unlawful activity may have to answer for their actions in court.

That’s especially true now that the EEOC has recently begun cracking down on retaliation. It has just released new enforcement guidelines on retaliation and related issues to help protect workers in situations like the one above. The agency estimates that 45% of employee complaints involve retaliation.

If you believe that you’ve been subjected to unlawful retaliation, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.