Conflicts between employees and employers are common in today’s complex workplace. If you’re considering a lawsuit against your employer, it’s natural to wonder if they can terminate you. In short, they cannot fire you simply because you filed a lawsuit. Let’s explore.

Reasons an Employee Might Sue Their Employer

Employees might consider legal action against their employers for various reasons. Some of the most common include:

  1. Discrimination: This occurs when an employer treats an employee unfavorably due to their race, gender, age, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. For example, being passed over for a promotion because of your age may indicate age discrimination.
  2. Harassment: Harassment involves unwanted conduct, often related to a protected characteristic, that creates an intimidating, hostile, or degrading work environment. Sexual harassment, including inappropriate comments or advances, is one example.
  3. Wrongful Termination: If you were fired without a valid reason or in violation of employment laws or contracts, you might have a case for wrongful termination. For instance, being fired for whistleblowing is typically illegal.
  4. Wage Disputes: Employers must adhere to laws regarding minimum wage, overtime pay, and breaks. If your employer fails to pay you correctly for your work, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

Legal Protections for Employees

Several important laws exist to protect employees from retaliation if they sue their employer or participate in investigations against them. These include:

  1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII): This law prohibits employers from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also protects employees from retaliation for reporting or opposing such discrimination.

  2. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and protects employees who assert their rights under the act from retaliation.
  1. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): This law establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor standards. Employees who file complaints or provide information related to an FLSA investigation are protected from retaliation.
  2. Michigan Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA): This law prohibits discrimination or retaliation against an employee “because the employee, or a person acting on behalf of the employee, reports or is about to report, verbally or in writing, a violation or a suspected violation of law . . .”

These laws cover what’s known as “protected activity.” This term refers to actions taken by employees to assert their rights under these laws, such as filing a complaint, reporting a violation, participating in an investigation, or suing an employer. When an employee engages in protected activity, it’s unlawful for the employer to retaliate by taking adverse action, like firing or demoting the employee.

The Reality of Retaliation

While there are robust laws in place to protect employees from retaliation, some employers still engage in retaliatory behaviors. These can range from subtle actions, like exclusion from meetings or sudden changes in work assignments, to more overt ones, including demotion or termination of employment.

Statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) underscore this issue. Over half of all EEOC complaints involved retaliation claims, making it the most frequently alleged form of discrimination.

So, what might retaliation look like? Here are some potential signs:

  • Sudden Negative Feedback: If you’ve been performing well but receive negative evaluations after engaging in protected activity, it could be a sign of retaliation.

  • Exclusion: Being systematically left out of meetings, discussions, or social events can also be a form of retaliation.
  • Demotion or Other Changes in Job Duties: If your responsibilities suddenly change or decrease without reason, it may be a retaliatory action.
  • Harassment: Increased scrutiny, bullying, or hostility from your employer or coworkers can indicate retaliation.
  • Firing/Termination of Employment.

The Process of Suing Your Employer

Navigating the process of suing your employer can be complex, especially when faced with potential employer retaliation. Here’s an overview of the steps involved:

  1. File a Complaint: The first step is usually to file a complaint with the EEOC or your state’s equivalent agency. They’ll investigate your claim and attempt to mediate a resolution.
  2. Obtain a Right-to-Sue Letter: If the EEOC can’t resolve your complaint, they’ll issue a right-to-sue letter. This permits you to bring your case to court.
  3. Bring a Lawsuit in Court: With your right-to-sue letter, you can file a lawsuit against your employer. Evidence plays a crucial role in this step. Documentation—including emails, performance reviews, or witness statements—can help prove your case.

Throughout this process, having a lawyer is invaluable. They can guide you through each step, ensure you understand your rights and options, and represent you in court.

Take Action With Sommers Schwartz

While the prospect of suing an employer can be daunting, it’s crucial to stand up for your rights in the workplace. Retaliation is an unfortunate reality, but protections exist. There are clear steps to take if you find yourself in this situation, from keeping detailed records to support your case, filing a complaint with the EEOC, and potentially bringing a lawsuit to court. It’s essential to consult with a legal professional before taking any action. If you’re considering this path, contact the team at Sommers Schwartz. Our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your options and guide you through this complex process.

Tad T. Roumayah

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Tad T. Roumayah

Tad Roumayah focuses his practice primarily on employment litigation, representing employees who have encountered discrimination, retaliation, wrongful discharge, whistleblower protection claims, wage and hour violations and other employment issues and disputes.