Sometimes at work, circumstances may arise that call for you to stand up against improper harassment or discrimination in your workplace. Regardless of whether you were the target of that illegal conduct or a coworker was, the law says you have the right to take action (whether that is filing a complaint, giving testimony, or participating in an investigation) without suffering punishment in your job. If you do get punished, that’s retaliation, it’s impermissible and it’s something that should motivate you to consult a knowledgeable New York employment discrimination lawyer.
According to the New York Daily News, one NYPD lieutenant was the victim of this kind of retaliation and received a sizable jury award as a result.
A.O. was an NYPD lieutenant who was a platoon commander at a precinct in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 2015 and 2016, A.O. wrote and submitted three internal complaints on behalf of one of her subordinate officers, whom she believed was being subjected to a hostile work environment because of his ethnicity. (The subordinate officer was a Latino man.) The lieutenant also testified on the Latino subordinate’s behalf at the departmental hearing on the matter.
Roughly three weeks after the lieutenant made the third complaint, the precinct’s commanding officer requested that the NYPD transfer her to a new precinct. The department moved A.O. to a precinct in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. The lieutenant sued, alleging that she was the target of a hostile work environment based on her gender and that the department retaliated against her because she participated in the subordinate officer’s complaint.
The federal judge who heard the lieutenant’s case concluded that she did not have enough evidence to support a valid sex-based hostile work environment claim. The lieutenant alleged that she was the target of rumors about a sexual relationship between her and the Latino officer and was accused of providing preferential treatment to that officer.
The rumors weren’t a sufficient basis because, when you pursue a sex discrimination case, you need more than just evidence that something adverse happened, you also need proof that a “gender-based animus” motivated it. A.O.’s evidence didn’t establish that second part.
As for the questions about A.O.’s alleged favoritism, those did not meet the “severe or pervasive” standard. They clearly weren’t pervasive and, according to the court, did “not rise beyond the level of a petty slight or trivial inconvenience,” meaning they weren’t severe, either.
Your Retaliation Claim Can Succeed Even if Your Discrimination Claim Fails
But here’s where A.O.’s case is especially instructive. If you have a potential claim for discrimination and a potential retaliation claim, it is important to bring both in your lawsuit. Even if you lose your discrimination claim (as this lieutenant did,) you have the possibility to continue with your retaliation claim.
That is true even if the retaliation claim you brought alleges that your employer retaliated against you specifically because of the discrimination claim you advanced. In other words, if you sue your employer for sex discrimination and for retaliation you suffered because you pursued that sex discrimination claim, you can win and recover damages on the retaliation claim even if the court finds that you had no case on the sex discrimination issue.
In this lieutenant’s case, the alleged retaliation occurred because she stood up for someone else who allegedly suffered illegal discrimination. That can also be a valid basis for a claim, as a winning claim can arise from actions you took on your own behalf or on behalf of others.
Another important nugget of legal knowledge from A.O.’s case is that the range of adverse employment actions you can use in your retaliation case is broader than the range of actions available in a discrimination or harassment case. The “‘adverse employment action’ standard in the context of a Title VII retaliation claim ‘covers a broader range of conduct than does the adverse-action standard for claims of discrimination under Title VII.’” Specifically, in your retaliation case, you don’t need proof that the adverse action you asserted negatively affected the terms and conditions of your employment, which you do need in a discrimination or harassment claim.
For A.O., even after losing on the discrimination claim, the retaliation claim alone was sufficient to get the case before a jury, which recently handed down a verdict in A.O.’s favor and an award of $872,000 in damages.
If you’ve been hurt at work by discrimination, harassment, or retaliation perpetrated by your employer, get the powerful legal help you need. Contact the experienced New York employment discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates, where our attorneys have spent many years aiding clients whose cases span the full spectrum of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation matters. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and find out how we can help you.