The Impact of a New Federal Appeals Court Decision on Retaliation Cases in Georgia

An important new ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose decisions directly control federal lawsuits in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida) clarifies how expansive federal law’s prohibition against retaliation really is. The decision illustrates that the provision is quite broad, meaning that it can be a vital tool for workers who’ve been harmed at work for standing up against discrimination or harassment. If it’s happened to you, don’t delay in contacting an experienced Atlanta employment retaliation lawyer who can advise you about how best to pursue your case.

The employee and plaintiff in the case, J.P., was a senior HR manager at an Alabama paper mill. Before starting at the paper mill, she was an HR worker for a hospital network.

In June 2017, the HR manager allegedly informed the mill’s plant manager that “she believed two black employees… may have a valid race discrimination complaint.” The complaint alleged that, in response, the plant manager told J.P. “you are not going to tell me how to run this mill!”

Just a few weeks later, the plant manager allegedly began complaining about J.P. to her supervisor. On July 12, J.P.’s Atlanta-based supervisor traveled to the Alabama mill and quizzed her about a deposition she attended two weeks earlier. J.P. informed the supervisor that the deposition regarded legal action taken by three employees at her previous job who alleged pregnancy discrimination and FMLA violations.

She also indicated that she had testified “on behalf of the ladies.” The supervisor allegedly responded that offering testimony in support of the employees “meant she ‘went against’ her previous employer” and doing so “made things clear” to him.

Exactly one week later, the employer fired J.P., so she sued for race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII.

What is — and Isn’t — Protected Activity

When it comes to retaliation cases, you need proof that you engaged in a protected activity and that your protected activity was the trigger for the adverse action you subsequently endured.

A central thrust of the employer’s defense was that J.P. never engaged in protected activity, as the deposition she gave was in opposition to the discriminatory practices of a previous employer, and “protected activity” only covered opposing illegal practices by the (current) employer that took the adverse action.

The 11th Circuit rejected that argument, pointing out that the law contained nothing that limited “protected activity” to opposing current employers. The law, the court noted, bars retaliation by an employer resulting from an employee’s opposition to “any… unlawful employment practice.” The law “makes no distinction between illegal practices by current employers and illegal practices by former employers… Opposition is opposition, and any unlawful employment practice is any unlawful employment practice,” the court succinctly summarized.

As a result, J.P.’s deposition against her former employer was a protected activity, and the termination by her current employer was potentially an instance of illegal retaliation.

Standing up and speaking out against discrimination, harassment, and other illegal workplace practices is the right thing to do, and you shouldn’t face harmful repercussions for doing so. That’s true whether you spoke out against your current employer or another employer. When it becomes necessary to take a retaliation case to court, look to the knowledgeable Atlanta employment retaliation attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert for the skillful, diligent, and experience-driven representation your case deserves. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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