Federal law and Tennessee law prohibits punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their legal rights. Tennessee employers should be aware of the possibility of retaliation claims in at least two contexts – (1) retaliation made unlawful by statutes, such as Title VII and other federal anti-discrimination laws, or by the Tennessee Human Rights Act; and (2) retaliation made unlawful by common law, such as a termination of employment in violation of some public policy, or under Tennessee’s “whistleblower” statute. You are afforded some rights that offer workplace retaliation protection.
Prima Facie Claim of Retaliation
To make a prima facie claim of retaliation under Title VII, a plaintiff must prove:
- he engaged in an activity protected by Title VII
- this exercise of protected rights was known to the employer
- the employer thereafter took adverse employment action against the plaintiff
- there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action
Workplace Retaliation Protection and “Protected Activity”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lists several examples of “protected activity:
- filing or being a witness in an EEO charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit
- communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment
- answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment
- refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination
- resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others
- requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice
- asking managers or co-workers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages.