The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently revived an engineer’s
job bias claim, determining that it was error for the trial court to require the jury
find “personal knowledge of an alleged protected activity”
in order to establish causation in a retaliation claim. The court also
explained that it is not necessary for an employee to show that an employer’s
reason for taking adverse action was “pretext” to prove discrimination
and cautioned District Courts against using jury instructions with this language.
Title VII and other discrimination laws prohibit
retaliation in the workplace. “Retaliation” refers to almost any negative
action by your employer against you in response to your complaint about
discrimination, or for participating as a witness in someone else’s
Henry v. Wyeth Pharms. Inc., an employee – Howard Henry – filed a claim for race discrimination
based on several different claims of bias. In a separate cause of action
for retaliation, Henry asserted that he was demoted as a result of his
discrimination claim. The trial court instructed the jury that “personal
knowledge of an alleged protected activity” was needed to establish
causation. The 2d Circuit disagreed, finding the instruction constituted
Writing for the court, Judge Pierre N. Leval noted, “Neither this
nor any other circuit has ever held that, to satisfy the knowledge requirement,
anything more is necessary than general corporate knowledge that the plaintiff
has engaged in a protected activity.” As such, an employee need
not prove that the specific person who carried out the adverse action
knew of the employee’s protected status. Rather, a causal connection
is demonstrated when the agent who decides to impose the adverse action
– such as firing or demotion – does so at the encouragement
of a superior who does have knowledge of the protected status.
Additionally, the trial court also erred in instructing the jury on the
concept of “pretext.” Pretext typically implies a “conscious
intention” to deceive. Leval explained that Title VII does not require
employees show that an employer’s stated reason for an adverse action
constituted “pretext.” As such, Leval cautioned district courts
not to provide this instruction in the future.
Discrimination – and retaliation based on complaints of discrimination –
are strictly prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. When
an employer acts adversely toward you, either directly or via an agent,
as the result of your filing a complaint for discrimination, you may have
a claim for retaliation.
For more information, please contact
The Buckley Law Firm, LLC, a Georgia law firm dedicated to protecting worker’s rights.