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Discipline After Complaints Of Discrimination Can Establish Retaliation Claims

Recently in Williams v. Ricoh Ams., the Federal District Court in Virginia made an important ruling in favor of employees who exercise their rights under anti-discrimination statutes. In the case, Mr. Williams, a 58 year-old African American male, was successfully employed by the defendant employer, Ricoh Americas Corporation, for 13 years. Throughout his employment, Mr. Williams had some workplace rule violations, including lateness and missing meetings, however, he was never disciplined because he was consistently one of the employer’s highest performers.

In June 2012, a white male who was younger than Mr. Williams became his new supervisor. Soon after, Mr. Williams believed the new supervisor began treating him differently than his younger, non-African American peers.

In June 2013, after enduring the perceived discrimination for a year, Mr. Williams sent the new supervisor an email in which he stated, “I am not going to allow you to treat me with a ‘Master’ mentality. I am not your slave. I am a professional sales person and expect to be treated as such.” Mr. Williams’ supervisor, offended by the slave-master comment, reported the email to human resources and upper management. A conference call was held between all interested parties, after which Mr. Williams was instructed to apologize.

Although the employer had a policy to investigate all allegations of discrimination, no investigation was conducted about Mr. Williams’ allegations.

Immediately after receiving Mr. Williams’ email, his supervisor began documenting all of Mr. Williams’ disciplinary issues. Between June 2013 and July 2015, Mr. Williams was written up numerous times for behavior for which he had never been written up prior to sending his June 2013 email. Then on January 20, 2015, he was terminated.

Subsequently, Mr. Williams filed a lawsuit alleging race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

After a period of discovery, both parties filed motions for summary judgment, asking the court to rule in their favor based on the facts of the case. The court denied both motions because it found there was a question of “material fact” about whether Mr. Williams’ increased discipline, immediately after sending his June 2013 email, was actually a false excuse for discrimination. The court based its decision on the fact that the employer failed to follow its own policy by not investigating Mr. Williams’ allegation of discrimination and Mr. Williams was only disciplined for pre-existing behavior after sending the email.

This case is important for employees because it requires employers to follow their own internal anti-discrimination policies. Failure to do so may indicate discrimination. Also, it underscores the fact that anti-discrimination statutes protect all employees, even those with a history of workplace rule violations.

If you think your employer has discriminated against you, the attorneys at Lebau & Neuworth may be able to help. For more information, contact us at at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.

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