Articles Posted in Retaliation

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Today, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Maine and other New England states, affirmed a Massachusetts trial court’s decision to hold HEI Hospitality liable for unlawfully retaliating against its former senior vice-president. HEI fired the former senior vice-president, Lawrence Trainor, a few hours after he complained that it was discriminating against him because of his age (he was in his 60’s at the time). Under federal and Massachusetts law, it is not only illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of his age; it is also illegal to retaliate against an employee who complains of age discrimination–even if no age discrimination occurred. That is exactly what the jury found in this case. It found that HEI did not discriminate against Trainor because of his age but that it did retaliate against him for opposing what he thought constituted age discrimination.

The First Circuit’s opinion also contains important holdings on the issues of front pay, attorney fees, and damages for emotional distress. With respect to front pay, the First Circuit held that an award of liquidated damages, designed to punish an employer for its unlawful retaliation, does not foreclose an award of front pay. This is because front pay is designed to compensate the victim of retaliation for wages that he would have earned in the future had the employer not violated his rights–not to punish the employer.

With respect to attorney fees, when a plaintiff in an employment discrimination case prevails at trial, the employer is typically required to pay the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney fees. HEI argued that the fees in this case should be reduced because Trainor only prevailed on his retaliation claim, not his age discrimination claim. The trial court and the First Circuit disagreed with HEI because the age discrimination and retaliation claims were so intertwined that all of the work that Trainor’s attorney performed on the case was necessary for both claims.

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A former Bank of America manager has filed a lawsuit against Bank of America alleging that the company instituted an “apartheid” system of business allocation. The former manager, a black man named Jack Mitchell, claims that Bank of America steered black employees to low-income black neighborhoods because the bank didn’t think white customers would want black employees to provide them banking services. Mitchell alleges that Bank of America fired him because he complained about this discriminatory practice.

A former Cantor Fitzgerald employee, Jermaine James, has also filed a race discrimination lawsuit against the bank. James, a black man, alleges that the bank’s management condoned racial harassment. For instance, James claims that co-workers made “monkey noises” in his presence and one co-worker once told him that he would be “enjoying his weekend where there won’t be any niggers.” According to James, when he complained that racial discrimination stood in the way of his advancement in the bank, his manager told him that he should transfer to a different location where he could “be around his own people.” James said that he asked the manager what he meant by “his own people” and the manager said he was referring to “black people.”

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A security director for the National Basketball Association (NBA) has sued the NBA, USA basketball, and UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma because of retaliation she experienced after she rebuffed Auriemma’s sexual advances. The security director, Kelley Hardwick, claims that Auriemma’s sexual advance occurred in 2009 when she was working in Russia at a basketball tournament. She claims that Auriemma followed her back to her hotel room, grabbed her, and tried to kiss her. Hardwick, a former NYPD detective, claims that she rebuffed his advance and told him he was out of line. This year, according to the lawsuit, Auriemma demanded that the NBA remove Hardwick from the security detail at the London Olympics as retaliation for her rejection of his sexual advance.

Hardwick told the NBA about Auriemma’s retaliatory motive, gave it a list of witnesses to support her story, and asked that it investigate. According to her, the NBA did not talk to any of her witnesses or to Auriemma about the allegations. Instead, it chose to stand by its decision to ban her from working security at the London Olympics. Hardwick subsequently filed her lawsuit. “I was willing to close this story in 2009,” Hardwick said in an interview. “If Geno had not interfered with my job and my livelihood, I would not have filed this lawsuit.”

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is an all too common problem that continues to persist. If you have experienced sexual harassment, or retaliation because you opposed sexual harassment at work, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer for advice.

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Today, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, in Boston, affirmed a judgment against a Puerto Rican hospital of nearly $2 million because it retaliated against a doctor who complained of age discrimination. The hospital terminated the doctor after he had complained that the hospital discriminated against him on the basis of his age. The Court affirmed the judgment because it found that various pieces of evidence cast doubt on the truthfulness of the hospital’s explanation for its decision to terminate the doctor. For instance, the hospital claimed that it terminated the doctor not because he had complained of age discrimination but because he had purchased an electrocardiography machine for his private practice and took business away from the hospital with it. However, the hospital had informed doctors who worked for it that they could purchase their own equipment for their private practices. Moreover, other doctors had purchased similar equipment for their private practices and the hospital did not terminate them.

This case illustrates that an employee who experiences retaliation or discrimination can prove it with circumstantial evidence. He does not necessarily need a witness to say that the employer admitted it was retaliating against or discriminating against him in order to prevail. If you believe your employer has illegally retaliated against you or discriminated against you, contact an experienced employment attorney who can tell you whether there is enough circumstantial evidence to prove that your employer violated your rights.

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Today, the Maine Human Rights Commission found that Discovery House, a company that operates 14 for-profit methadone clinics around the country, unlawfully retaliated against former employees John Dana and Colleen Taylor for their opposition to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Mr. Dana and Ms. Taylor both worked at Discovery House’s South Portland location as substance abuse counselors. During their employment at Discovery House, Mr. Dana and Ms. Taylor opposed sexual harassment perpetrated by a security guard and also by a supervisor. They complained about it and counseled fellow co-workers about their rights. They also complained that Discovery House took inadequate actions to address this sexual harassment and the hostile work environment it created. On July 15, 2009 they both met with the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Discovery House. Ms. Taylor told him that she had contacted the Maine Human Rights Commission about the sexual harassment in the workplace. Mr. Dana also told him of his concerns about the sexual harassment. The company fired both Mr. Dana and Ms. Taylor the very next day.

Mr. Dana worked for Discovery House a little over two years and Ms. Taylor worked there a little under two years. They had positive performance reviews and had received no other discipline. Yet, Discovery House claimed that it fired both Mr. Dana and Ms. Taylor because they were “not a good fit.” It also claimed that it fired them because they displayed “constant negativity” and disrupted their business operations. The Maine Human Rights Commission found that these explanations were likely just a pretext for discrimination.

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The Maine Employee Rights Group is currently pursuing a lawsuit which alleges that MaineGeneral unlawfully discriminated against Adela Blethen because of her race, national origin, color, and her complaints about racial harassment. Ms. Blethen, a Hispanic woman from Hallowell, Maine, worked for MaineGeneral as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) from June 2006 until November 2009. Ms. Blethen worked in the Gray Birch facility, where residents received long term care. Ms. Blethen’s lawsuit alleges that MaineGeneral discriminated and retaliated against her after she reported to MaineGeneral that residents were calling her derogatory, racist names like “black [expletive]” and “that Mexican.”

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The U.S. Supreme Court will consider this question next week when it hears arguments in Thompson v. North American Stainless.

According to court filings, in September 2002, Eric Thompson’s wife (who was his fiance at the time) filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against her employer, North American Stainless. Coincidentally, Mr. Thompson worked for North American Stainless too. Her complaint alleged that North American Stainless discriminated against her because of her sex. On February 13, 2003, the EEOC informed North American Stainless that Mr. Thompson’s wife had filed this sex discrimination complaint. Two weeks later, North American Stainless decided to fire Mr. Thompson even though it had given him a raise for good performance a few months earlier. Mr. Thompson then filed his own complaint with the EEOC for retaliation claiming that North American Stainless fired him merely because his wife had accused it of sex discrimination.

The EEOC found in Mr. Thompson’s favor. However, a federal court in Kentucky and, then, a divided federal appeals court in Ohio both found that the law permitted North American Stainless to retaliate against Mr. Thompson. These courts concluded that the law simply does not protect employees from retaliation when their spouses, or other people they’re closely associated with, complain about illegal discrimination.

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In Collazo v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Manufacturing, Inc., the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston held that Mr. Collazo’s case against his former employer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, could go forward. (The First Circuit is the federal appellate court which serves the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the territory of Puerto Rico). Mr. Collazo alleged that Bristol-Myers Squibb retaliated against him because, when a co-worker told him about sexual harassment she experienced, he helped her complain to human resources (HR) about the sexual harassment. Mr. Collazo helped by arranging a meeting with HR and accompanying the co-worker to the meeting.

The First Circuit applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County. In Crawford, the Supreme Court rejected the attempts of some federal courts to permit employers to retaliate against employees who opposed sexual harassment unless the employee was the first to initiate the complaint. The First Circuit held that, even if Mr. Collazo said nothing about the sexual harassment to HR, the company still could not retaliate against him because his actions implied that he opposed the sexual harassment.

If you experience sexual harassment or your employer retaliates against you because you have opposed sexual harassment, you should speak to a lawyer experienced in representing employees in these types of cases.

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On July 14, 2009 the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Home Depot discriminated against Nicolette McGinley because of her sexual orientation and because she complained about sexual harassment. Ms. McGinley worked at the Home Depot store in South Portland, Maine. The MHRC found that Home Depot discriminated against Ms. McGinley when it terminated her employment. At the time of her termination, Ms. McGinley was an Assistant Store Manager. The details of the case are set forth in the MHRC Investigator’s report.

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