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Workplace Retaliation Does Not Necessarily Require Proof of Discrimination

Gender discrimination is a serious problem in many Oklahoma workplaces. Yet many victims are afraid to come forward because they fear retaliation. That is why federal laws expressly forbid employers from discriminating against an employee for "opposing any practice" that is considered unlawful. While the law does not actually use the word "retaliation," that is how courts generally describe such claims-i.e., firing an employee who complains about gender discrimination is a retaliatory act that is itself an unlawful form of discrimination. 

Tulsa Judge Orders Trial in Retaliation Case

In fact, it is possible for an employer to be liable for retaliation even if there is insufficient evidence to support the original discrimination charge. Consider this recent decision by a federal judge here in Tulsa. In this case the court dismissed a gender discrimination allegation while simultaneously allowing the plaintiff to proceed with her retaliation claim.

According to the plaintiff's lawsuit, she worked in a number of positions for a company formerly owned by her brother-in-law. After he sold the company and left his position as president, the plaintiff alleged she was "treated differently than her male co-workers and was subjected to stereotyping" by the new management. Specifically, she said the new president criticized her for "acting like a woman."

Within hours of sending an email to the company's human resources manager to complain about ongoing gender discrimination, the plaintiff said she was fired. She subsequently sued the company for both gender discrimination and retaliation. Before the judge, the company argued it had legitimate "performance-related" reasons for firing the plaintiff, and moved for summary judgment.

As mentioned above, the judge split the difference. He dismissed the discrimination charge but allowed the retaliation claim to proceed. With respect to discrimination, the judge said the company "offered sufficient evidence" justifying its decision to fire the plaintiff. Federal law then required the plaintiff to present counter-evidence showing this was nothing more than a "pretext" to cover up illegal discrimination. The plaintiff failed to present any such evidence, the judge said.

But the judge found the plaintiff's email to HR was enough to show there could be a "causal connection" between a legally protected activity-filing a complaint regarding gender discrimination-and the company's decision to fire her. Even if the company had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its decision, it is still against the law to terminate an employee because they have accused a company official of illegal conduct. Indeed, the judge pointed to testimony alleging the company's president said he was not "going to tolerate that crap," referring to the plaintiff's discrimination complaints, which suggested the firing was in fact retaliation.

Have You Been the Victim of Gender Discrimination?

Employment discrimination and retaliation cases are often an uphill battle. A skilled Tulsa employment law attorney can assist you in building your case and seeking the compensation you deserve. Contact the offices of Frasier, Frasier & Hickman, LLP, today to schedule a consultation.

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