No Win, No Fee (818) 990-8300

Employee Rights Blog

How to Build a Strong Retaliation Case: Protect Your Rights

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Apr 23, 2024 | 0 Comments

Ever felt the sting of unfair treatment at work after standing up for what's right? You're not alone. Identifying what builds a strong retaliation case can feel like navigating through a stormy sea. Shockingly, many don't realize the power they hold with the correct information and strategy.

Retaliation case on chalkboard

The stakes are high; no one should suffer in silence. Imagine having clear steps that arm you against unjust actions, turning your grievances into a compelling legal argument. It's about knowing your rights, gathering solid evidence, and presenting an irrefutable case that demands justice and respect.

Last year alone saw countless employees step forward with claims that reshaped their workplaces—and sometimes their careers—forever. Each story underscores how critical it is to act decisively and knowledgeably when faced with workplace adversity.

This isn't just another discussion on employment woes; it's about transforming personal hardship into proactive triumphs across any professional landscape.

Table of Contents:

Understanding Workplace Retaliation and Protected Activities

Workplace retaliation is a serious issue that can have devastating effects on an employee's career and well-being. It occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee for engaging in a protected activity, such as reporting discrimination or harassment, filing a complaint, or participating in an investigation. And here comes the question - which actions actually get the shield of being called 'protected'? In the eyes of employment law, it's any action an employee takes to assert their rights or report illegal conduct in the workplace. This can include things like complaining about unsafe working conditions, reporting sexual harassment, or participating in a discrimination investigation. 

It's important to note that retaliation doesn't just mean getting fired. It can take many forms, such as demotion, pay cuts, negative performance reviews, or even just a hostile work environment that makes it difficult for the employee to do their job. The legal framework protecting employees from retaliation is robust. Federal laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who engage in protected activities. 

Many states also have their own anti-retaliation laws that provide additional protections. When the vibe shifts against you at work following a complaint, getting clear on your protections and choices should be job number one. Consulting with an experienced employment lawyer can help you navigate the complex legal landscape and build a strong retaliation claim.

The Legal Battle of Harris v. FedEx Corporation

The case of Harris v. FedEx Corporation is a powerful example of how a strong retaliation case can hold employers accountable for their actions. Jennifer Harris, a FedEx employee, won a staggering $366 million in a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the company. Harris had a stellar track record at FedEx, with positive evaluations and six promotions between 2007 and 2019. 

But things took a turn when she filed an internal complaint about racism in the workplace. Suddenly, she received a letter detailing her "unacceptable performance" and faced sabotage from her manager. Despite her years of excellent service, Harris was given a warning and subsequently terminated. But she didn't take it lying down. She fought back with a retaliation lawsuit, arguing that her firing was a direct result of her complaint about racism. 

The legal battle was long and complex, but in the end, justice prevailed. Harris just got a massive $366 million nod from the jury, which basically shouts from the rooftops that no one should put up with being retaliated against at work. The Harris case is a reminder of the importance of standing up for your rights in the face of adversity. If you've experienced retaliation for engaging in a protected activity, don't be afraid to seek legal help. An experienced retaliation lawyer can guide you through the legal process and help you build a strong case.

Identifying Signs of Workplace Retaliation

Man worried at work

Workplace retaliation can be subtle and sneaky, making it difficult to spot. But there are some common warning signs that can indicate you're being targeted for engaging in a protected activity. One of the most common signs of retaliation is a sudden negative performance evaluation. 

If you've consistently received positive reviews but suddenly get a scathing critique after reporting discrimination or participating in an investigation, it could be a red flag. Negative evaluations can have a serious impact on your career. Sometimes they're the reason people get bumped down a peg, see their paycheck shrink, or have to clear out their desk for good. If you suspect your negative review is retaliatory, it's important to document everything and consider seeking legal advice.

Exclusion from Meetings or Projects as a Red Flag

Another warning sign of retaliation is being excluded from important meetings or projects. If you find yourself suddenly left out of key discussions or removed from high-profile assignments, it could be more than just an oversight. Exclusion can be a way for employers to sideline employees they perceive as troublemakers. It can make it difficult for you to do your job effectively and can be used to justify negative performance reviews or even termination. If you suspect you're being excluded as retaliation, it's important to speak up. Document the instances of exclusion and consider reporting the behavior to HR or seeking legal advice.

Evidence That Strengthens a Retaliation Claim

If you're considering filing a retaliation claim, it's crucial to gather evidence to support your case. The more documentation you have, the stronger your claim will be. One of the most powerful forms of evidence in a retaliation case is witness statements. If colleagues or coworkers witnessed the retaliatory behavior or heard your employer make threatening comments, their testimony can be invaluable. It's important to gather witness statements as soon as possible, while the events are still fresh in people's minds. If you wait too long, witnesses may forget important details or become reluctant to get involved.

The Weight of Emails and Recordings

When it comes to cases of retaliation, saved emails and recordings often come in handy as solid proof. If your employer sent you threatening or hostile messages after you engaged in a protected activity, those communications can serve as direct evidence of retaliation. It's important to save any relevant emails or recordings and keep them in a safe place. You may also want to consider forwarding important communications to a personal email account or storing them on a cloud-based service in case you lose access to your work accounts.

Steps Employers Can Take to Prevent Retaliation Claims

Sure, folks at work need safeguards against revenge tactics. Yet equally important is how managers build spaces where safety and inclusivity aren't just buzzwords but reality. Here are some steps companies can take to prevent retaliation claims: One of the most important things employers can do to prevent retaliation claims is to conduct thorough internal investigations when complaints arise. Digging deep into an issue early on can spot trouble before it gets worse, showing everyone that the company really cares about fixing problems in the workplace. And hey, if things get sticky legally, having this up your sleeve can really save the day.

Implementing Effective Training Programs

Another key step employers can take is to implement effective training programs for managers and HR staff. Key lessons from these courses should include pinpointing revengeful actions promptly, handling issues with care, Training can help ensure that everyone in the company understands their rights and responsibilities when it comes to workplace issues. Additionally, this can prepare management and HR personnel to deftly handle delicate scenarios sans any backlash moves.

Building a Strong Workplace Retaliation Case

Retaliation claim on paper

If you've experienced workplace retaliation, building a strong case is crucial to getting the justice you deserve. Here are some key steps you can take:

Documenting Unfair Treatment and Retaliatory Actions

One of the most important things you can do to build a strong retaliation case is to document everything. Keep a detailed record of any instances of unfair treatment or retaliatory actions, including dates, times, and witnesses. It's also a good idea to keep copies of any relevant emails, messages, or other communications. If you have any performance reviews or disciplinary actions that you believe are retaliatory, make sure to save those as well. The more evidence you have, the stronger your case will be. Don't rely on your memory alone - write everything down and keep it in a safe place.

Seeking Legal Assistance for Retaliation Claims

If you believe you've experienced workplace retaliation, it's important to seek legal assistance as soon as possible. An experienced employment lawyer can help you understand your rights and options and guide you through the legal process.

The Role of an Employment Attorney in Your Case

An employment attorney can play a crucial role in your retaliation case. They can help you gather evidence, build a strong legal argument, and negotiate with your employer or their legal team. Your attorney can also help you navigate the complex web of employment laws and regulations that govern retaliation claims. They can ensure that your rights are protected and that you're not taken advantage of by your employer or their legal team. 

Perhaps most importantly, an employment attorney can be your advocate and support system throughout the legal process. They can provide guidance and reassurance during what can be a stressful and emotional time. If you win your retaliation case, you may be entitled to various forms of compensation and remedies. These can include: - Lost wages: If you were fired or demoted as a result of retaliation, you may be entitled to back pay and future lost earnings. - Emotional distress damages: Retaliation can take a serious toll on your mental and emotional well-being. 

Going after some money for your emotional pain? That could be on the table. - Punitive damages: In some cases, courts may award punitive damages to punish employers for particularly egregious or malicious behavior. - Reinstatement: If you were fired as a result of retaliation, you may be able to seek reinstatement to your former position. - Injunctive relief: Courts may also order employers to take certain actions, such as implementing training programs or changing their policies, to prevent future retaliation. 

The specific compensation and remedies available in your case will depend on the facts of your situation and the laws in your state. An experienced employment lawyer can help you understand what you may be entitled to and fight for the maximum recovery possible.

Preventing Discrimination and Encouraging Reporting in the Workplace

Preventing workplace retaliation starts with creating a culture of respect and inclusivity. Employers should make it clear that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated and that employees who report these issues will be protected from retaliation. One way to do this is by implementing clear and comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies. Guidelines need to make it crystal clear on the do's - especially regarding safe activities, saying a big no to all kinds of payback, and offering straightforward ways for folks to report if they're treated unfairly or witness such acts. 

Keeping employees in the loop with frequent trainings about workplace guidelines is super important for any business. This training should cover topics like identifying and reporting discrimination and retaliation, as well as bystander intervention techniques. Another key aspect of preventing retaliation is encouraging employees to speak up when they experience or witness unethical conduct. Employers should create a culture where employees feel safe and supported in reporting issues without fear of retribution. 

This can be done through anonymous reporting hotlines, regular check-ins with employees, and clear communication from leadership that reporting will not result in negative consequences.

The Intersection of Retaliation Claims with Other Forms of Discrimination

Workplace retaliation often intersects with other forms of discrimination, such as sexual harassment or discrimination based on race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. In fact, retaliation is the most common type of discrimination claim filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

For example, an employee who reports sexual harassment by a supervisor may face retaliation in the form of a demotion or termination. Similarly, an employee who complains about racial discrimination may be subjected to a hostile work environment or denied promotions as a result. 

It's important to recognize that retaliation can take many forms and can be motivated by various types of discrimination. Employees who experience retaliation should consider whether they have also experienced other forms of discrimination and include those claims in any legal action. Employers should also be aware of the ways in which retaliation can intersect with other forms of discrimination and take steps to prevent and address all forms of discriminatory conduct in the workplace. 

By fostering a culture of respect, implementing clear policies and procedures, and providing regular training and support, employers can create a workplace where all employees feel valued and protected.

Key Takeaway: 

Building a strong retaliation case means documenting everything, from unfair treatment to negative evaluations. Save emails and witness statements. Seeking help from an employment lawyer can be key—they guide you through legal processes, ensuring your rights are protected. Remember, standing up for yourself could lead to compensation like lost wages or damages for emotional distress.


So, we've journeyed through the stormy seas of workplace retaliation and emerged with a clearer map: understanding your rights, recognizing signs of unfair treatment, and collecting undeniable evidence. This isn't just about survival; it's about thriving by turning adversity into advocacy.

Kingsley Szamet & Ly

This guide wasn't just an overview; it was an arsenal equipped with everything needed to stand firm and demand respect legally. We talked witness statements—your secret weapon—and how even simple emails could be pivotal allies in court.

Your fight for justice when experiencing retaliation at work isn't a solo battle—it's part of a larger movement towards greater accountability and fairness across all professional landscapes. Every single step taken builds stronger foundations for everyone's future employment experiences.

About the Author

Eric Kingsley

Eric B. Kingsley is a 2023 "Best In Law" Award winner and has litigated over 150 class actions. He is also an AV peer rated attorney and a prolific speaker at various seminars on employment law.


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

We Hold Employers Accountable - Get Help Now

You do not have to go through this alone. Contact our Los Angeles Employment law firm for a free case evaluation. We represent our clients on a contingency fee basis, which means that you do not pay any fees unless you win or recover compensation, and you will never have to pay out-of-pocket. California-only. We are unable to help those outside of California. Call (818) 990-8300