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10th Circuit upholds claim for retaliation

Some residents of Oklahoma may be familiar with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. This is the federal court responsible for handling appeals from decisions made in the district courts in several states, including Oklahoma. As such, decisions made in the 10th Circuit can affect legal precedent in this state, even if a case is originally from another one of the states in the circuit.

Recently, an employment law case was decided by the circuit that may hold some interest for Oklahomans. A man who was employed by a county government in another state sued his employer, alleging that he had been demoted for retaliatory reasons. Specifically, the plaintiff in the case alleged that his supervisors began treating him differently after he aided a colleague in filing a sexual harassment complaint against her boss. According to the suit, the man's employment reviews had, prior to his colleague's complaint, always been positive, and he had been promoted multiple times.

After his help with the complaint, however, the employee charged that a disciplinary investigation was begun, and he was subsequently demoted. At that point he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. His complaint claimed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should have given him protection from retaliation. The case went in front of a jury and they decided in favor of the man. The county, the employer, then requested that a judgment in its favor be entered as a matter of law. They county argued that the plaintiff had not carried his burden of proof under a prior legal precedent that shifted the burden to him. However, both the district court and the 10th Circuit found that sufficient evidence existed of the retaliation, and that the burden shifting did not apply to post-trial phases of the case in any event.

The above case illustrates that retaliation by an employer is actionable even if the actions causing the retaliation are on behalf of someone else's protected rights. Because the man's coworker is protected by law from sexual harassment in the workplace, his help with that complaint is protected from an employer's retaliation. Anyone who feels his or her rights have been violated by an employer should thoroughly explore all legal options that may be available.

Source: hr.blr.com, "Sexual harassment: Be careful how you treat employees after complaint is made," Sept. 4, 2014

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