An employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise “retaliate” against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination. The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability, as well as wage differences between men and women performing substantially equal work, also prohibit retaliation against individuals who oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in an employment discrimination proceeding.
In addition to the protections against retaliation that are included in all of the laws enforced by EEOC, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also protects individuals from coercion, intimidation, threat, harassment, or interference in their exercise of their own rights or their encouragement of someone else’s exercise of rights granted by the ADA.
There are three main terms that are used to describe retaliation. Retaliation occurs when an employer, employment agency, or labor organization takes an adverse action against a covered individual because he or she engaged in a protected activity. These three terms are described below.
An adverse action is an action taken to try to keep someone from opposing a discriminatory practice, or from participating in an employment discrimination proceeding. Examples of adverse actions include:
employment actions such as termination, refusal to hire, and denial of promotion,
other actions affecting employment such as threats, unjustified negative evaluations, unjustified negative references, or increased surveillance, and
any other action such as an assault or unfounded civil or criminal charges that are likely to deter reasonable people from pursuing their rights.
Adverse actions do not include petty slights and annoyances, such as stray negative comments in an otherwise positive or neutral evaluation, “snubbing” a colleague, or negative comments that are justified by an employee’s poor work performance or history.
Even if the prior protected activity alleged wrongdoing by a different employer, retaliatory adverse actions are unlawful. For example, it is unlawful for a worker’s current employer to retaliate against him for pursuing an EEO charge against a former employer.
Of course, employees are not excused from continuing to perform their jobs or follow their company’s legitimate workplace rules just because they have filed a complaint with the EEOC or opposed discrimination.