Employment laws protect employees from retaliation when an employee complains that he is being discriminated against at the workplace. In Braddock v SEPTA (E. D. Pa. April 21, 2015 (O’Neill, J.), the employee worked as the only black male Yard Master for SEPTA for over three decades. The employee concluded that he was experiencing what he perceived to be racial discrimination at his workplace, because he was being “treated differently than Caucasian Yard Masters” by his supervisor, and other employees. The employee complained to the appropriate individuals, and eventually was fired. The employee filed a retaliation claim against his employer alleging that his termination was directly correlated to the race discrimination complaints that he made.
After proceeding though discovery, the employer filed a motion for a summary judgment, claiming that the employee failed to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to a retaliation claim. In order to establish a case of retaliation, an employee is required to show 1) that the employee engaged in protected employee activity; 2) an adverse action by the employer, either after or contemporaneous with the employee’s protected activity; and 3) a casual connection between the employee’s protected activity and the employer’s adverse action. Protected activity, under Title VII includes, “opposition to unlawful discrimination and protects an employee who complains about employer conduct he or she reasonably believes to be an unlawful employment practice, whether or not the conduct is actually protected discrimination under the law.
In Braddock, “prior to his termination, during a telephone call with his supervisor the employee testified that he attempted to complain over the phone to his supervisor that he was…being racially discriminated against…and that he was being treated differently than other Yard Masters.” The employee testified that his supervisor cut him off and accused him of calling the supervisor a racist; the employee then denied calling the supervisor a racist. The supervisor did not deny the existence of the phone call, and testified that the employee called him a racist and the supervisor stated that the employee said that the supervisor was out to get him. The court found that there was undisputed testimony that establishes the only reason for the call was to inform the supervisor and other union officials of the conduct at issue.
The employee file a motion for summary judgment arguing that, there is no issue of material fact regarding whether Braddock engaged in protected conduct and that therefore Braddock cannot sustain a claim of retaliation. The employer argued that the employee’s allegations were vague and self-serving, and not “objectively reasonable to constitute protected activity.” However, the court found that evidence suggests that Braddock did not simply report these issues of racism objectively, but with opposition to it, which constitutes protected activity under Title VII.
In Braddock, the court found that there are no undisputed issues of material fact regarding the complaint of racial discrimination to the employer’s EEOC office prior to the employees termination and there was evidence of a discussion of the employees complaints of racial discrimination prior to Braddock’s termination and the supervisor conceded that the fact that the employee called him a racist was at least one reason for the employers decision to terminate the employee. The Court held that even if a written complaint had not been filed, the other complaints may be sufficient to establish a retaliation claim since Title VII claims can involve formal charges of discrimination as well as informal protests of discriminatory employment practices, including making complaints to management. As a consequence, the court found that the employee established protected action, and the employee could proceed to trial with his retaliation claim.
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