Blackballing and Other Types of Covert Employment Actions, and the Significance They Have in Your Georgia Retaliation Case

A situation where an employer terminated or demoted an employee shortly after that employee made a complaint about illegal discrimination or harassment is one possible example of impermissible retaliation. However, what can constitute actionable retaliation goes way beyond that. If your employer took punitive action against you because you spoke up against illegal employment practices, then you should get in touch with a knowledgeable Atlanta employment retaliation case.

As an example of how broadly the law against retaliation stretches, there is this case from neighboring Alabama, in which the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose decisions control federal cases in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida) entered a decision in January.

The worker, J.S., was an administrative assistant working for a local police department in suburban Birmingham. In the summer of 2015, the police chief denied the assistant’s request to take a day off using her compensatory time. As a result, the assistant made a formal written complaint to human resources accusing the chief of sex discrimination. The complaint alleged that the chief treated J.S. differently than the department’s male employees when it came to approving the use of earned compensatory time.

The city’s HR director informed the chief of the woman’s complaint. She reminded the chief that, under the chief that the city’s “no retaliation” policy prohibited him from taking any action against J.S. The chief, however, brought in one of the department’s detectives and had that detective do a forensic analysis of the assistant’s work computer for the period of May-September.

Apparently, sometime during those four months, the assistant had attached her personal cell phone to her work computer. (According to J.S., she had done so for work-related purposes.) Doing so had created a backup file on the work computer containing everything in the woman’s cell phone, which the detective accessed using special tools. That search yielded “nude and pornographic photographs” of J.S. and others. The city subsequently fired J.S.

To have a viable retaliation case, you have to have proof that your employer did something harmful to you. This “something” is, within the verbiage of retaliation law, called an “adverse employment action.” Many things can be adverse employment actions, including terminations, demotions, suspensions without pay, reduction of hours, pay cuts, or reassignments to less desirable or prestigious positions.

Anything That Would Dissuade a ‘Reasonable Worker’ from Alleging Discrimination

Basically, the law says that anything that “well might have dissuade[d] a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination” is potentially valid as support of your retaliation claim. The trial judge in J.S.’s case said that the forensic search couldn’t qualify because a “reasonable worker could not be dissuaded from making a charge of discrimination due to an investigation of which she had no knowledge.”

In a very important component of its decision, the appeals court stated that that was not correct. The court pointed out that a great many secret or covert acts may qualify as adverse employment actions in the context of a retaliation claim. Specifically, the court pointed out an instance where a supervisor, acting with a desire to retaliate, secretly blackballs the complaining employee, thereby freezing her out of potential bonuses, promotions, and so forth. That the hypothetical employee was wholly unaware that the blackballing was occurring bore no impact on whether or not the supervisor’s action violated the laws against retaliation.

The law defines certain workplace activities as “protected” and, if your employer takes harmful action against you because you engaged in protected activity, then that action itself may be an illegal employment practice. The Atlanta employment retaliation attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are skilled at investigating and handling retaliation cases and helping harmed workers get what they deserve. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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