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Employee Rights: Aggregate Actions Can Constitute Retaliation

California employees are protected under a web of interconnected state and federal labor laws. It is critical that all workers are able to exercise their rights, without the fear that they are going to face punishment from their employer. The good news is that Bay Area workers are protected against retaliation. Though, in practice, defining and proving retaliation can sometimes be difficult.

As described by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) retaliation is an adverse employment action that was taken because a worker engaged in protected activity. The EEOC defines an adverse employment action as one that “might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making a claim”.

Notably, in retaliation cases, aggregate actions by an employer can collectively qualify as retaliation. Here, our experienced San Francisco employment lawyers discuss the key Supreme Court case on this issue, and explain what all workers in the Bay Area need to know if they believe that they are facing retaliation due to their protected activities.

The Supreme Court Defines Adverse Employment Actions

In the late 1990s, Sheila White was the only female employee working at the Tennessee railyard for Burlington Northern & Santa Fe. At that time, she alleged that she was facing sexual harassment and gender discrimination from her immediate supervisor. When she raised the issue to the company, the supervisor was suspended for ten days and ordered to take a class of workplace discrimination.

However, soon after this, White was reassigned to a less desirable position within the company. She filed a complaint, alleging that her previous complaint of discrimination was a motivating reason for the reassignment. The company responded that she did not lose any salary or benefits, therefore there was no adverse employment action. Eventually, this case (Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Company v. White) went to the Supreme Court.

In its holding, the Supreme Court made it clear that the law requires that the actions of the employer must be viewed in their totality. In other words, aggregate actions can constitute retaliation, if, taken together, the actions would dissuade a reasonable employee from exercising their rights.

The Takeaway for Employees in Northern California

If you are a Bay Area worker who has reported sexual harassment, blown the whistle on fraud or unlawful behavior, filed a discrimination claim, or engaged in any other type of protected activity, please be aware that you have important legal rights. Sadly, employers sometimes break the law. It is an unfortunate fact, but you may face illegal retaliation because you have exercised your rights. In some cases, employers will do very subtle things to try to annoy and ‘get back’ at a worker.

If this is happening to you, you should carefully document everything that has occurred. Get that information into the hands of an experienced California employment law attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will be able to help you take whatever action is required to protect your rights.

Contact Our Bay Area Employment Law Attorneys

At Bracamontes & Vlasak, our Northern California employment lawyers have deep experience handling retaliation claims. If you are a worker and you believe that you have faced unlawful adverse employment action, please contact us today for a free consultation. With an office in San Francisco, we represent clients throughout the Bay Area, including in Fremont, Santa Rosa, Hayward, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara.

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