Workplace Retaliation Claims in Massachusetts
It’s no surprise that employers do not like employees who challenge their decisions or their conduct. Some of these employers retaliate against employees who engage in this type of important conduct. Numerous state and federal statutes exist that make this type of retaliation unlawful.
Sources of Protection
Title VII and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Act/chapter 151B prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who challenge, oppose, or report conduct they believe amounts to unlawful harassment or discrimination. This includes sexual harassment, as well as harassment or discrimination based upon someone’s gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Act/chapter 151B prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who challenge, oppose, or report conduct they believe amounts to unlawful harassment or discrimination because of someone’s disability. Those same laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who request an accommodation related to their disability.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Act/ chapter 151b prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who challenge, oppose, or report conduct they believe amounts to unlawful age discrimination or harassment.
The Family Medical Leave Act prohibits employers from interfering with, restraining, or denying an employee’s right to take medical leave.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act prohibits an employer from discharging, demoting, suspending, threatening, harassing, or in any manner discriminating against an employee who challenges conduct they believe violates any rule or regulation of the Securities and Exchange Commission or any other law relating to fraud against shareholders.
The False Claims Acts prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who disclose an employer’s false or fraudulent federal claims, also known as qui tam actions.
The Fair Labor Standards Act and the Massachusetts Wage Act prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who challenge or oppose practices they believe amount to unlawful wage practices, including employees who question the calculation of commissions, bonuses, tipped employees who question the distribution of tips, employees who claim they are wrongfully not being paid overtime, and employees who claim they are working without pay.
Massachusetts common law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who perform an important public deed.
Important Concepts in Retaliation Law
The act of challenging conduct an employee views to be unlawful is known as “engaging in protected activity.” Importantly, the employee need not be right that the conduct challenged was actually unlawful in order to be entitled to anti-retaliation protection. For example, an employee who complains about sexual harassment and is subsequently fired, could ultimately succeed on a retaliation claim even if she fails on her sexual harassment claim.
Anti-retaliation provisions are not only triggered to retaliatory terminations or demotions. Instead, the Supreme Court of the United States and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court have held that retaliatory actions include those that are “materially adverse to a reasonable employee or job applicant . . . to the point that they could well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.
Employees are still entitled to anti-retaliation protections even if they are wrong in thinking the challenged conduct is unlawful. In fact, they just have to raise their allegation in good faith. For example, an employee who complains about sexual harassment and is fired can win on a retaliation claim even if she was wrong about the conduct amounting to sexual harassment.
Timing is one of the key factors when determining if an action is retaliatory. In fact, numerous courts have held that temporal proximity between protected activity and an adverse employment action is sufficient to create an inference that unlawful retaliation has occurred.
Employees who believe they have suffered unlawful retaliation are entitled to considerable remedies if they can successfully prove their claims. These remedies include compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, compensation for lost wages, reinstatement, compensation for incurred attorneys’ fees, and reimbursement for certain incurred expenses.