“Retaliated Against for Filing a Discrimination Charge – What Should I Do?”

Question: I’m a 47-year-old black man working for an employer who is discriminating and retaliating against me. Earlier this year I filed a discrimination charge with our HR Department against my store manager and the operations manager. Since that time they seem to be trying to get back at me.

In early March, we were told that a new freight-flow process was being implemented. I was required to learn the process, and I signed off on a form that said I understood. It was implemented in early May. In early July, I was written up for poor performance on the new process, even though we just implemented it, and we haven’t worked the “bugs” out of it yet. Since then, my work hours have been changed, so that I can’t enjoy my favorite hobby anymore, which is being a Jazz Musician. I’ve taken this up the chain of command, but nothing helps. Any ideas?

Geno from Alpharetta, GA

Answer: Unfortunately, retaliation is a common experience for those who file a complaint of discrimination, harassment or other impropriety at work. Such retaliation is surely illegal, and wrong, but so, so common. Perhaps it is almost a part of human nature.

“Retaliation” is a very interesting word; it is defined in my dictionary as “returning like for like.” However, “retaliation” at work is not “returning like for like,” because (a) what the employee did (complain) is 100% legal, while (b) what the employer (or supervisor) did was 100% illegal. They are not “like for like.” Definitely not.

Each one of us has been the subject of criticism, some deserved, some not deserved. Each one of us has been accused of wrongdoing, sometimes correctly so, sometimes incorrectly so. It’s just a part of living and working with others.

The adult and professional things to do are what we call the “Seven Steps of Responsible Response,” namely, (a) seek to understand exactly what happened, (b) seek to understand exactly what the accuser thinks happened, (c) find out what the relevant “rules” are, and what constitutes “breaking the rules,” (d) assemble the relevant facts, (e) respectfully and calmly set those facts into a written statement in defense of what you did, or what you did not do, that is, defend yourself, (f) deliver your statement to the company’s top executives and/or your state’s human rights agency, in a verifiable manner (email and fedex are both good), and (g) hope for the best. Some don’t do that; instead, they lay in wait, and attempt to “get back” – that is, retaliate – at the earliest opportunity. When this type of behavior comes after a complaint of discrimination, harassment or other impropriety at work, it is almost always a violation of law. As, I believe, it should be.

For sure, some people file entirely false claims and allegations of discrimination, harassment and an impropriety at work. They are wrong to do so, and should be punished if they do. But even that does not call for, deserve, or excuse laying in wait and “getting back,” that is, retaliation. It should be dealt with in the same fashion as an honest, good-faith complaint, as noted above.

In employment, “retaliation” is not “returning like for like,” but “acting illegally after someone else acts “legally.” When someone accuses you of misconduct, “returning like for like” is wrong, and illegal.

If you believe you’ve been retaliated against, the task before you is to do the same things that someone accused of “bad” things should do, that is, the “Seven Steps of Responsible Response,” namely (a) seek to understand what happened, (b) seek to understand what the others you believe retaliated say or think happened, (c) consider carefully if what took place is a violation of the “no retaliation” rules,” (d) assemble the relevant facts regarding what took place, (e) respectfully and calmly set out those facts and why you believe they are retaliation in a written statement, (f) deliver your written statement in a verifiable manner to your company’s top executives and/or your state’s human rights agency, and (g) hope for the best. 

If you would like to obtain a Model Letter to assist you in preparing a Complaint of Retaliation, simply [click here].

This will surely require some effort on your part, a good dose of faith, and the power of purpose to propel you forward. It is your best way forward. Hope it helps.

Best, Al Sklover