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Employment Law

Employee Retaliation

In Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 117 S.Ct. 843, 136 L.Ed.2d 808 (U.S. Md., Feb 18,

1997) (NO. 95-1376), a former employee sued Shell Oil after he was fired. Robinson filed an employment-discrimination charge with the EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While that charge was pending, he applied for a job with another company, which contacted the respondent for an employment reference. Claiming that respondent gave him a negative reference in retaliation for his having filed the EEOC charge, Robinson filed suit under §704(a) of Title VII, which makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment who have availed themselves of Title VII's protections. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the term "employees," as used in §704(a) of Title VII, does include former employees, and so Robinson could sue for the allegedly retaliatory post employment actions.

In Haddle v Garrison, 525 U.S. 121, 119 S.Ct. 489, 142 L.Ed.2d 502 (U.S.Ga., Dec 14, 1998) (NO. 97-1472), Petitioner Michael Haddle cooperated with federal agents in an investigation that lead to the indictment of his employer, Healthmaster, Inc. and respondents Jeanette Garrison and Dennis Kelly for MEDICARE FRAUD. Haddle was subpoenaed to testify before the GRAND JURY, and although he did appear, he did not testify, due to time constraints. Additionally, Haddle was expected to appear as a witness in the criminal trial resulting from the indictment. Garrison and Kelly subsequently conspired with a remaining Healthmaster officer to have Haddle fired, both in retaliation for assisting with the federal proceedings, and also to intimidate him. Haddle then sued for damages under 42 U.S.C. §1985(2) (which prohibits conspiracies to deter, by force, intimidation, or threat, any party or witness in any court of the United States from attending such court, or from testifying to any matter pending therein, freely, fully, and truthfully, or to injure such party or witness in his person or property on account of his having so attended or testified), alleging a conspiracy to intimidate him from testifying in the upcoming criminal trial, and a conspiracy to retaliate against him for appearing before the grand jury. Garrison and Kelly moved to dismiss for FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM upon which relief can be granted because §1985 requires that complainants allege an injury in their person or property in order to recover damages. Under the authority of an earlier case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit accepted the respondents' argument that because Haddle was an at-will employee, he had no constitutionally protected interest in continued employment, and therefore could not allege an injury. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Eleventh Circuit's position that there must be injury to a "constitutionally protected property interest" to state a claim for damages under §1985. Section 1985 is intended to redress intimidation or retaliation against witnesses in federal court proceedings. Limiting causes of action under the statute to restoration of property misses the point and improperly limits the statute's effect. Instead, the Court analyzed "injured in his person or property" in the context of tort-law, which recognizes third-party interference with at-will employment as a breed of the traditional tort of intentional interference with contractual relations and intentional interference with prospective contractual relations.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued comprehensive guidance on the prohibition against retaliation aimed at individuals who file charges of employment discrimination or who participate in the investigation of an EEOC charge.

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