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Sunday, June 1, 2008

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Retaliation Lawsuits

Justices Uphold Retaliation Lawsuits
Federal, Private Workers Have Same Protections

The Washington Post by Robert Barnes and William Branigin - May 28, 2008; A01

The Supreme Court said yesterday that workers who claim that they faced retaliation for complaining about racial or age discrimination may sue in federal court, and made clear that federal employees have the same protection as their counterparts in the private sector. In a pair of decisions that drew support from both liberal and conservative justices, the court said its past decisions compelled the view that federal laws that protect workers from discrimination also protect them from retaliation for filing complaints, even if the words of the statute do not specifically say so. "It's a huge victory for federal workers, who will enjoy the same protection from retaliation that private-sector employees receive," said Joseph Guerra, who argued the case for postal worker Myrna Gomez-Perez. He said that more than 1 million federal workers are covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

More broadly, the court's decisions brought grudging praise from civil rights groups, which had complained about the court's overwhelmingly pro-business rulings last term, and concern from industry groups. The liberal People for the American Way said the rulings were "welcome exceptions" to what it called a trend of the court's conservative justices to "undercut the rights of everyday Americans and protect powerful business and government interests." The National Federation of Independent Business, however, called the decisions "extremely disappointing for the small-business community." Robin Conrad, executive vice president for the litigation arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said she was "surprised by the margin" in both cases.

In CBOCS West v. Humphries, the justices ruled 7 to 2 that an 1866 civil rights law gave an African American worker who was fired from aCracker Barrel restaurant the right to pursue his claim of retaliation. Only the court's two most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas andAntonin Scalia, dissented. In Gomez-Perez v. Potter, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the 6 to 3 opinion that federal workers are protected from retaliation under the ADEA, which Congress approved in 1967. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined Thomas and Scalia in dissent in that case. Conrad wondered whether the court was suffering the "sting of the Ledbetter decision." She was referring to the public criticism and congressional action that resulted from last year's 5 to 4 decision in which the court's strict reading of federal laws kept Lilly Ledbetter from suing her longtime employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, for pay discrimination.

In yesterday's cases, the court stood by prior rulings that said legal protection against discrimination carried an implied right to sue for retaliation. Both decisions referred to a 1969 precedent as well as a subsequent 2005 decision written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was succeeded by Alito in 2006. Business groups had hoped that the decision to accept the CBOCS case meant the court was ready to reexamine those rulings. That lawsuit stemmed from the 2001 firing of Hedrick G. Humphries, a black assistant manager of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Bradley, Ill. He said that he was dismissed after complaining about discriminatory remarks by a supervisor and about the firing of a black waitress for offenses that were tolerated from whites. Soon after Humphries complained to a district manager, a supervisor said that he had left a restaurant safe unlocked overnight and fired him. Among other claims, Humphries said his dismissal violated provisions of the Reconstruction-era Civil Rights Act of 1866.

In yesterday's opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the court agreed. Even though reprisals are not specifically addressed in the law, the idea that the act "encompasses retaliation claims is indeed well-embedded," Breyer wrote. "That being so, considerations of stare decisis strongly support our adherence to that view," he added. Thomas wrote that the court's opinion "has no basis in the text" of the statute and that retaliation is not the same thing as "discrimination based on race."

In the postal worker's case, Gomez-Perez said that after she filed an age-discrimination complaint against the Postal Service, she was subjected to various forms of retaliation, including false accusations of sexual harassment and drastically reduced work hours. The ADEA prohibits retaliation against private-sector employees but does not specifically mention such a ban for federal workers. But Alito wrote that the phrase "discrimination based on age" in the federal-sector provision "includes retaliation based on the filing of an age discrimination complaint." Echoing Breyer in the other case, he wrote: "We are guided by our prior decisions interpreting similar language in other anti-discrimination statutes." Roberts disagreed in that case. He said Congress protected federal workers through the civil service process and "did not intend those employees to have a separate judicial remedy for retaliation."


Anonymous said...

well thank you very much Supreme Court, it's about time. These tactics are standard procedure in the Surrogate Courts. I have found that it comes down to "you better do what you're told (little) girl or we'll punish you," that's what I and others have encountered. Retaliation is the favorite tactic. Now, how do we these people all disbarred? What is the best way?

Anonymous said...

OCA has got to be sweating this one now..they are in the process of fighting this battle in federal!
They retaliate as much and as hard as all criminals cry innocent..with whomever attempts to expose their discriminatory and corruptive daily work environment! I am elated they will soon be busted for the criminal manner in which they treat their female and minority employees! My only wish is that Thomas, Roberts and Scalia and their female family members would accept employment with this biased beast (OCA) and suffer "immeasureably" what others have for years!

Anonymous said...

Whenever OCA fights CITIZENS OR EMPLOYEES, They develop a punishing effect for them! Watch out for OCA'S involvment in some kind of criminal activity against you, if you have DARED to bring charges against them. This includes many different and serious types of crime. They believe that no one knows, but they have manifested themselves in ways they will never understand and are being watched for continued participation!
Maybe Chief Judge Roberts should keep an eye on his own "past" will bring shocking reality to his backward dissents!

Michael L. Gooch, SPHR said...

Inappropriate behavior and off-hand remarks will sneak up to bite you. Have you ever been blindsided by disparaging remarks made by your management team? The managers don’t realize at the time that they are in a discrimination mode. I detail these likely events in my management book, Wingtips with Spurs. Usually they will ‘get it’ when their depositions start. When you hear the following phrases, stop the offender, offer some education, and hope to goodness no one else heard them. If it happens again with the same person, it may be time to sell the cow. The courts and juries will decide if the remarks are ‘stray comments’ or direct evidence of a discrimination mindset.
• “We need sharp, young people.”
• “We need people who can come in early and stay late.”
• “They’re dinosaurs.”
• “They’re too old to learn something new”
• “We want employees who are young, lean, and mean.”
• “They wouldn’t be able to keep up with the fast company
• “We’re looking for longevity.”
• “We need some young blood in this department.”
If a manager allows a culture that tolerates remarks such as the ones above, then the manager will probably get what he or she is asking for. The great leader will remind management on a frequent basis that they should never forget silence is often the best answer. Michael L. Gooch, SPHR

Anonymous said...

All of what you have stated is excellent and very accurate, but the NY STATE GOVERNMENT, esp the JUDICIAL SYSTEM operates under the premise of power, abuse and terror!They have the benefit of a ready made reputation of distinction, to be able to judge the very cases you present, while doling out the punishment to those who offend. They therefore do not see themselves in a position to ever be the accused and if they find themselves in that position, they are hell bent on demonizing the accuser ...unrelenting!
I truly belive that the NY state judiciary does not Read up on or even concern themselves with the federal laws that prohibit discriminations, per the civil rights act of 1964 or the amendments of the constitution!
Two billion dollars and unchecked abuses, with incredible and massive power over all aspects of every taxpayers lives....have catapulted the NY STATE JUDIIAL SYSTEM into an arrogance of blatant disrespect, with a sinsiter twisting of the purpose they were established to accomplish!
Thus, the courts ignore any blatant or subtle forms of any and all discriminations as you have outlined, while judging severly everyone ELSE who may be accused. So in reality, THE NY JUDICIAL SYSTEM has happily and corruptly created this dichotomy!

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