The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal job discrimination laws. Curiously, most of this agency’s enforcement docket does not include bias claims. Instead, the EEOC focuses on retaliation. These claims are a bit easier to prove in court.

Retaliation is not just limited to discrimination. Retaliation also occurs if employees or applicants engage in a protected activity and the employer reacts adversely. Examples of protected activity include labor organization, whistleblowing, filing a bias or other complaint, filing a workers’ compensation claim, and serving as a witness in an internal or EEOC investigation.

Hostile Treatment

According to one study, unfair treatment is the most common kind of employer retaliation. The guilty party could be a supervisor or a co-worker. In either case, employers have a duty to investigate the retaliation and take action to stop it.

Mistreatment is especially common following a bias complaint. Not everyone feels the same way about workplace discrimination.

Workplace bullying can adversely affect the worker’s mental health and make it almost impossible to perform daily job functions. So, the unfair treatment also could affect a person’s ability to move up the corporate ladder.


Employers do not have a duty to address social alienation. If Jim files a bias complaint and he is disinvited group lunches, that’s not unlawful retaliation. Instead, sidelining is exclusion from meetings, decisionmaking, and work activities.

Frequently, however, these things overlap. For example, group lunch might include a discussion about new software.

Much like workplace bullying, sidelining affects employee health and job performance. Many supervisors retaliate against workers in this way because they mistakenly believe that such conduct is legal under state and federal law.

Passed Over for Promotion

Arguably, this form of retaliation has the worst effect on the overall workplace. If employees who file discrimination complaints are passed over for promotions, the environment becomes even more discriminatory. Additionally, such moves have a chilling effect on other workers. They will think twice about filing complaints if career progress is at stake.

Other times, supervisors retaliate against workers by denying opportunities, such as business trips or other activities.

These claims are often difficult to prove in court. In most cases, the employer can come up with a nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action, such as poor attendance or a poor performance review. Bias victims can still win these cases if they show that the alleged nondiscriminatory reason was just a front.

Physical Relocation

This form of retaliation is closely linked to the loss of business opportunities. Sometimes, supervisors move whistleblowers and other supposed troublemakers to other desks or offices. They might even move them to satellite offices.

Frequently, employers are not malicious in these cases. They honestly believe the move would benefit the worker. But well-meaning discrimination is still illegal discrimination.

Shift or Schedule Changes

Part-time employees who file complaints often see their hours reduced. Any employee who files a complaint could be moved to an unfavorable shift, like a swing shift or night shift. Once again, even if these changes are well-intentioned, they are illegal.

Retaliation is all too common in South Carolina. For a confidential consultation with an experienced employment law attorney in Greenville, contact the Briggs Law Firm. After-hours visits are available.

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