Protected Activity Preserves Retaliation Claim

Summary judgment does not need to prevail on all counts.  If an employee believes, despite being mistaken, that his/her employer’s conduct has violated the law, a retaliation claim may prevail during a summary judgment challenge, despite the failure of a discrimination charge holding up against the challenge.  In Johnston v. Urban League of Rhode Island, C.A. No. 09-67S, Plaintiff Kevin L. Johnston engaged in protected activity when he informed the Urban League’s Board Chairman of his belief that he felt discriminated against, when he submitted an employment discrimination filing with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights (RICHR), and forwarded a complaint to the Urban League’s Human Resources director.  Following these actions, the Urban League’s Personnel Committee met, and noted in their meeting minutes, that Mr. Johnston had a charge on file with the RICHR, had sought legal assistance, and contacted the organization’s board chair.

While the Urban League’s subsequent decision to terminate Mr. Johnston included non-discriminatory reasons, they also included actions covered by protected activity (e.g., notifying the organization that Mr. Johnston believed there was evidence of a discriminatory work environment).

WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU:  Employers should be aware of the intricacies of an employment action, whether extending a job offer or deciding to terminate an employee.  The cliché of seeing the forest for the trees is ever apparent in retrospect, but an attorney specializing in employment law can provide the vision to avoid getting lost in the details.  In this case, the protected activity created by Mr. Johnston’s attempts to document his concerns were a signal to management to consult with counsel.  Contact Muller Law to see how this case may apply to your particular situation.