What a ‘Retaliatory Hostile Work Environment’ Is and How Proof of It Can Help Your Georgia Employment Law Case

The law gives many workers certain rights. The right to a minimum wage, the right to overtime pay, and the right to a workplace free from sexual harassment and certain forms of discrimination are a few of those. When you, as a worker, stand up for those rights — whether yours or a coworker’s — you shouldn’t be punished for it, but too many are. If you’re concerned about retaliation at your job, you owe it to yourself to get in touch with a knowledgeable Atlanta workplace retaliation lawyer to discuss your situation.

Often, people associate workplace retaliation with a discrete form of punishment. For example, a worker who got fired just a few weeks after filing a formal sex discrimination complaint, or a worker who was demoted just a couple of months after settling an unpaid overtime lawsuit. Those kinds of adverse employment actions, while potentially valid bases for a retaliation claim, are not the only type, however.

It’s also possible that you can be harmed by what’s called a “retaliatory hostile work environment.” A retaliatory hostile work environment happens your protected activity triggers misconduct directed at you that rises to a level of hostility that would motivate a reasonable person not to speak out about a violation. Well-represented recent plaintiffs are continuing to reap the benefits of this newer pathway to success in a retaliation claim.

The original case recognizing retaliatory hostile work environment as a valid argument in the 11th Circuit (which governs federal cases in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama) makes for a pretty straightforward example of how this kind of claim can unfold. The plaintiffs were two female doctors who worked at a VA hospital near Tampa, Florida. The doctors had filed internal complaints alleging discrimination. After they did so, they allegedly became the targets of a “concerted” campaign that included spreading rumors and “attempt[ing] to ruin the doctors’ reputations and careers.”

That, according to the court, was a legitimate basis for a retaliation claim. The doctors presented sufficient proof that a reasonable jury could conclude that the doctors’ workplace was one so “filled with intimidation and ridicule” that it qualified as an adverse employment action.

What You Need to Show to Establish a Retaliatory Hostile Work Environment

More recently, the 11th Circuit further clarified what a retaliatory hostile work environment looked like. In 2020, the court stated that the correct standard of proof was to show that the mistreatment you suffered was bad enough that it “might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge.”

Making this showing is not always easy, and often requires the touch of an experienced legal professional. Last year, the 11th Circuit upheld the dismissal of a salesperson’s retaliatory hostile work environment claim against her employer. The salesperson, who took on her case without a lawyer, asserted as the acts of retaliation exactly two statements: one where another employee told her “she was going to get fired” and one where her manager stated that “she would be terminated if she did not show up for work.” These messages, by themselves, were not something a reasonable jury could view as “materially adverse” and fell far short of the required standard.

So, where does that all leave us? It leaves with the realization that federal law allows you to take action if, in response to your standing up for your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act or federal anti-discrimination law (or the rights of someone else), you endured a workplace so hostile that it would make a reasonable person think “I’m just going to keep my mouth shut.”

It also leaves you with the realization that a retaliatory hostile work environment claim, like so many employment law claims, is strengthened substantially when you have experienced legal counsel on your side. For the powerful and reliable legal advocate you deserve, get in touch with the Atlanta workplace retaliation attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. We’ve helped so many workers like you, and we’re eager to get started on your case. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today.

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