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Your Legal Corner - Client Alert Blog

U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Employee Retaliation Claims

Written By: Melissa C. Marsh, Esq., California Attorney, February 2009 Add to Favorites
On January 29, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn., that §704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (the anti-retaliation provision) not only applies to employees who bring a complaint, but also to employees who disclose information regarding inappropriate behavior or illegal conduct in response to questions posed during an employer’s internal investigation. Facts The Metro School District was performing an internal investigation into rumors that its employee relations director, Gene Hughes, had sexually harassed various employees. During the internal company investigation, the plaintiff (Crawford) who had worked for the Metro School District for 30 years reported that Hughes had sexually harassed her. Although the Metro School District took no action against Hughes, shortly after the investigation it fired Crawford alleging unrelated reasons. Crawford filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that the Metro School District was retaliating against her for stating that Hughes had sexually harassed her.

Held. The anti-retaliation provision provided in §704(a) in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects an employee who speaks out about discrimination or harassment during a company’s internal investigation.

Implications for Employers.

The Crawford case greatly extends anti-retaliation protections afforded to employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now, even employees who silently oppose illegal conduct, or whose disclosures to coworkers indirectly reach the employer, may be protected under the Act. To avoid or limit claims of retaliation, employers should exercise extreme caution before disciplining, or terminating, an employee who has even briefly mentioned inappropriate behavior, or illegal activity, committed by the employer or a coworker. In addition, employers should conduct and document annual employee performance reviews, as such performance evaluations can provide documentation supporting performance problems that pre-exist any “protected” statements later made by an employee.

Tags: retaliation, termination, wrongful
Posted In: Employment Law News 

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Located in Los Angeles, California, the Law Office of Melissa C. Marsh handles business law and corporation law matters as a lawyer for clients throughout Los Angeles including Burbank, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Valley Village, North Hollywood, Woodland Hills, Hollywood, West LA as well as Riverside County, San Fernando, Ventura County, and Santa Clarita. Attorney Melissa C. Marsh has considerable experience handling business matters both nationally and internationally. We routinely assist our clients with incorporation, forming a California corporation, forming a California llc, partnership, annual minutes, shareholder meetings, director meetings, getting a taxpayer ID number (EIN), buying a business, selling a business, commercial lease review, employee disputes, independent contractors, construction, and personal matters such as preparing a will, living trust, power of attorney, health care directive, and more.