In a recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the court determined
that a trial court had erred when it issued jury instructions that too
narrowly defined what
retaliation means. In
Millea v. Metro-North R.R. Co., a railroad employee – Christopher Millea – brought a retaliation
claim under the
Family and Medical Leave Act(FMLA). When the court instructed the jury concerning how to make its decision
about the case – it failed to instruct them that retaliation in
the form of a “materially adverse employment action” includes
“an employer’s action that is likely to dissuade a worker
…from exercising his legal rights.”
Here, Millea brought a case for retaliation based on his attempts to exercise
his rights under the FMLA. Millea had fought as a U.S. Marine and suffered
severe post-traumatic stress and panic attacks. During 2005, he applied
for leave under the FMLA and was granted 60 days of leave for 2006. Millea
was supposed to notify his supervisor directly if he needed to take leave
that was unforeseeable.
Unfortunately, in two instances Millea suffered attacks and took leave,
but did not provide direct notice. As a result, Millea was docked pay
and had a letter of reprimand placed in his file. He was later transferred
to a lower paying position. Millea then filed an
FMLA lawsuit claiming that the railroad interfered with his ability to take leave,
and that the letter of reprimand qualified as retaliation.
At trial Millea requested the jury be instructed that retaliation includes
actions likely to dissuade a worker from making or supporting a charge
of discrimination. The Court instead simply told the jury that retaliation
is “a materially adverse action.” The Second Circuit determined
this definition was too narrow, and may have prejudiced Millea right to
recover for retaliation. The court also noted that an employer’s
formal reprimand is more than just a “petty slight,” and can
affect an employee, leading him to fear for his job.
Retaliation laws are intended to protect employees who hesitate to complain
about discrimination or harassment in the workplace out of fear they will
suffer a materially adverse condition. Here, the Second Circuit determined
that this may include such actions as a letter of reprimand.
If you believe you have suffered discrimination or suffered negative action
by your employer in response to your complaint, you may have a claim for
retaliation. Remember, you can fight back. For more information, contact
Atlanta employment discrimination attorneys at The Buckley Law Firm, LLC. We have years of experience handling retaliation
and discrimination claims and can provide you the help you deserve.