EMPLOYERS MAY BE HELD LIABLE FOR RETALIATING AGAINST EX-EMPLOYEES

By Timothy K. Cutler

 

The law condemns retaliation in discrimination claims because it has a chilling effect on employees who are entitled to enforce their equal employment rights.

The Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that an employer can be held liable for retaliating against ex-employees, even if the employer's wrongful conduct occurred after the employment relationship ended. The decision came after a deaf employee of the employer sued for handicap discrimination and wrongful discharge. One of the company's co-founders initially supported the company's decision to fire the employee. The co-founder later changed his mind and signed a new affidavit that supported the deaf employee's complaint of discrimination.

The employer then sued the former employee and former co-founder for defamation, civil conspiracy and intentional interference with business relations. The former employee and former co-founder filed counterclaims for illegal retaliation.

The employer's timing of the lawsuit against the former employee and co-founder was sufficient enough to raise an inference of retaliatory motivation. The close temporal proximity between the former co-founder's second affidavit and the employer's subsequent lawsuit suggested that the former employer was motivated by retaliation. The causal connection was the employer's attempt to retaliate against the former employee's continued pursuit of a legally protected activity, namely filing suit for discrimination, and the former co-worker's testimony in favor of that former employee.

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