Georgians Who Seek Redress for Employment-Related Retaliation Must Show Appropriate Connections to Alleged Wrongdoing

In an Atlanta employment retaliation case, the plaintiff must show a certain kind of connection to the defendant – and to the violation of the law that allegedly occurred – in order to move forward with his or her case. Sometimes, this is an easy and obvious step of the litigation process.

Other times, the battle is more difficult. Unless the plaintiff can make this necessary connection, his or her case is likely to fail.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal case, the plaintiffs were family members of a woman who worked for the defendant bank during the year 2008. The woman was employed as a personal assistant to the bank’s president and CEO during that time. After she was fired, she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that the president/CEO had sexually harassed her and then retaliated against her for complaining about the harassment. The gravamen of the plaintiffs’ complaint against the defendant bank was that it had taken adverse action against them in retaliation for the former employee’s protected conduct. (The plaintiffs had various business relationships with the defendant.)

The plaintiffs’ original complaint was filed in 2013 and also named the defendant law firm, which had represented the defendant bank in litigation related to the case. In their complaint, the plaintiffs sought relief pursuant to Title VII for the defendants’ alleged retaliation against them. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ retaliation claims against the defendant law firm on the grounds that this defendant could not be held liable under Title VII due to the lack of an employment relationship. The court then granted summary judgment to the defendant bank as to the plaintiffs’ remaining retaliation claims, ruling that the plaintiffs could not establish the necessary causal link between the former employee’s protected activity and any adverse action the defendant bank took against the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs appealed.

Decision of the Court on Appeal

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. In order to pursue a third-party Title VII retaliation claim against the defendant bank, the plaintiffs would have to have shown that the defendant bank’s adverse actions against them constituted actionable retaliation because the actions in question “well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker” from engaging in conduct that was protected under the provision of Title VII. Furthermore, the plaintiffs would only qualify as “persons aggrieved” under Title VII if they could show that they fell within the zone of interests protected by the statute. Because the plaintiffs were unable to do this, their claims against the defendant bank failed. The court likewise held that the plaintiffs’ third-party retaliation theory claims against the defendant law firm failed under the particular circumstances presented.

Contact an Atlanta Employment Law Attorney About a Retaliation Claim

If you believe that you may have an employment law claim, such as a retaliatory discharge case, against a current or former employer, the legal team at Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help. Call us at 404-873-8048 to schedule an appointment. Our firm also handles sexual harassment cases, hostile work environment cases, lawsuits pertaining to the Family and Medical Leave Act, and matters concerning wage and hour violations. Please remember that there are time limits for filing employment law claims, including those involving alleged acts of retaliation, so it is important to get prompt legal advice about your situation.

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