Successfully Pursuing a Retaliation Case in Georgia, Even in the Absence of a Winning Claim for Discrimination or Harassment

With any field of professional knowledge, from engineering to law to medicine to finance to plumbing, certain misconceptions can take root. That’s why, when you have a problem that involves a field of specialized knowledge, it pays to retain a seasoned pro. The right professional can provide you with the correct answers to your issues. That’s especially true when it comes to the benefits an experienced Atlanta workplace retaliation lawyer can provide in your retaliation case.

Many laypeople might look at a case where a worker alleges they were harmed by discrimination and/or harassment, along with retaliation, and assume that if the underlying discrimination/harassment case fails, the retaliation claim would necessarily go down with it. And they’d be wrong, as a recent retaliation case from Columbus, Georgia shows.

The plaintiff, H.H., was a woman working at a Columbus “wholesale club” store. After the store hired A.O., a Hispanic man, he allegedly began sexually harassing the woman, making numerous inappropriate comments about the woman’s sex life.

When coworkers discovered that the woman had socialized outside of work with another male store associate, S.S., they allegedly began sexually harassing her about her relationship with S.S. One time, a black female coworker yelled across the store’s sales floor to inform her that S.S. “needed some” sexual interaction. Another time, A.O. asked her if she had slept with S.S., according to the lawsuit.

H.H. made a complaint, which the company investigated. The investigation initially focused on A.O. and the black woman. Unbeknownst to H.H., the investigation later expanded to include inappropriate comments she supposedly made to S.S.

Ultimately, the company recommended that the black woman receive second-level discipline and that H.H. receive third-level discipline (which was just one level beneath termination.) It recommended no action against A.O. Those recommendations were not binding, and discipline ultimately was under the discretion of the store manager. The manager, who was also a Hispanic person, fired H.H, while presumably taking no action against A.O. and only intermediate-level action against the black woman.

The woman sued, alleging sexual harassment and discriminatory termination based on her gender. She also alleged that her termination was in retaliation for her complaining about sexual harassment.¬†The employer moved for summary judgment which, if granted, would have ended the woman’s lawsuit. The court, however, concluded that the woman had a potential case and allowed her to proceed.

The employer’s failure to get the woman’s case tossed teaches an important lesson about cases that combine sexual harassment or discrimination claims with retaliation claims.

A Viable Retaliation Case Requires an ‘Objectively Reasonable’ Underlying Claim¬†

The judge concluded that the woman’s sexually hostile work environment claim and her claim of a termination motivated by gender discrimination were lacking. Nevertheless, the court allowed the woman to go forward with her retaliation claim.

To have a viable retaliation claim, your underlying claim of sexual harassment and/or discrimination doesn’t have to be a winning one. Instead, the law requires only that it was “objectively reasonable.” If it was, then you had a right to pursue it, and your employer has no right to engage in an adverse employment action against you because you did so.

In H.H.’s situation, her allegations didn’t make out successful claims of employer liability for coworker sexual harassment or termination motivated by gender bias. Those claims were, however, objectively reasonable and H.H. had adequate proof tying her termination to her previous complaint. That meant that her retaliation claim was viable and she could go forward.

Illegal workplace retaliation can occur in many different ways. The knowledgeable Atlanta workplace retaliation attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are experienced in investigating and litigating situations where workers have been harmed because their employers retaliated against them for engaging in protected activities. To get us started working to protect your rights, contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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