August/September 2006 Issue Number 84
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
Let us know what you think! If you'd like to subscribe to the newsletter, please enter your email address in the box below.
enter your email address
Fire-Rescue International September 12-16, 2006, Dallas, TX. Linda Willing will be presenting a pre-conference seminar on September 13 entitled “Leading Diverse Teams.
New York State Women Firefighters Weekend September 21-24, 2006, New York State Academy of Fire Science, Montour Falls, NY. Linda Willing will be presenting a workshop entitled “Command Presence.
12th Annual Conference of Fire Service Women, April 25-29, 2007 Oakland, CA. Go to www.wfsi.org for more information.
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act not only makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, color or religion, but also prohibits retaliation against an employee who complains that he or she has experienced discrimination. In 1980, the first guidelines for sexual harassment recognized that harassment based on protected class status is a form of discrimination, and thus illegal under Title VII. Therefore, retaliation against an employee who files a harassment complaint is illegal under federal law.
But what is retaliation, exactly? Clearly if an employee is fired for filing a complaint, such job action could be considered retaliation. But what if an employee is simply transferred? What if someone is unfairly disciplined following a harassment complaint, but that discipline is later withdrawn? Would these situations also be examples of actionable retaliation?
Consider the case of Sheila White, a forklift operator for Burlington Northern Railroad. When Ms. White complained to her supervisors about workplace harassment, she was transferred to a position as a track laborer, a job that provided the same pay and benefits, but was also considered by all in the workplace to be dirtier, more physically demanding, and overall a worse job than forklift operator. Ms. White was also suspended from work for 37 days after being accused of insubordination- she was later cleared of the charge and reinstated with back pay.
Did Ms. White experience actionable retaliation as a result of her harassment complaint? The lower courts have taken a wide range of views on what conditions must exist to prove retaliation. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the matter. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that Ms. White did experience retaliation and was entitled to compensation as a result. The court wrote, "a plaintiff must show that a reasonable employee would have found the challenged action materially adverse, which in this context means it well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination."
The court further held that "the anti-retaliation provision does not confine the actions and harms it forbids to those that are related to employment or occur at the workplace." For example, filing false criminal charges against a complaining employee outside the work environment could qualify as retaliatory behavior. Further, the court emphasized that "context matters." The actual impact of the action and not the action on its face must be considered when retaliation is considered. For example, changing a work schedule for one person might be merely inconvenient, but that same change might make life impossible for a single parent or someone caring for a sick relative.
The effect of this ruling is to clarify and expand the rights of workers who complain about retaliation as a result of filing workplace discrimination or harassment charges.
Sources: Business and Legal Reports, June 23, 2006
Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company v. White, US Supreme Court, No. 05-259