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Supreme Court makes employee retaliation claims more difficult

A decision recently handed down by United States Supreme Court will make it increasingly burdensome going forward for employees to successfully claim instances of employer retaliation following allegations of employment discrimination.

Specifically, the recent opinion in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar now establishes that before an employee may recover for employment discrimination retaliation, he or she must first prove that the ONLY reason he or she suffered an adverse employment action was because of his or her employer’s desire to retaliate against him or her.

Under previous discrimination law, an employee could establish a retaliation claim if he or she could simply prove that retaliation was a motivating factor when the employer made an adverse employment action, such firing the employee. For instance, this would come into play if an employee made allegations that he or she was passed over for a promotion because of race, and then subsequently fired mainly because of these allegations.

However, following the recent Supreme Court opinion, an employee must now prove that retaliation was the only reason for being fired and not just a motivating factor. Consequently, employers are now able to simply claim any additional reason for the firing and they are off the hook. For example, if an employer states that an employee was fired, in part, because he or she was often late for work, the retaliation claim will likely be dismissed; even if it is possible that retaliation played some part in the decision to fire the employee.

Interestingly, it is important to note that even though this recent Supreme Court opinion may result in fewer retaliation claims overall, it will not necessarily directly impact claims of simple employment discrimination.

Source: Forbes, "Game-Changing Employment Discrimination Decisions By The Supremes," Valerie Eifert, July 8, 2013

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