A key element of any retaliation claim is a “causal connection” between the protected activity and the adverse action. How much evidence of a causal connection is necessary for an employee to get past summary judgment (a pre-trial stage in litigation when the defendant tries to get the case thrown out) and take a case to trial? Sometimes, not all that much. That is why it is really important to TRAIN all managers on the dangers of retaliation claims and how to avoid them.
Take the 2013 case of Cloe v. City of Indianapolis. The plaintiff, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, requested an accommodation and was subsequently fired. The 7th Circuit recognized the issue as “whether a reasonable jury could infer a causal link between the two.” It held that it could, as the stated reason for the disciplinary action that preceded the termination was “fishy,” per the plaintiff’s evidence. Thus, the plaintiff was allowed to proceed to trial. What was the “fishy” evidence? Just some evidence that the discipline was unwarranted.
The prospect of a jury verdict can be a scary one for employers. That’s why I was not surprised to read about a recent settlement obtained by the EEOC in a disability/retaliation case (here). The EEOC sued an Illinois employer because it laid off and then refused to rehire an employee with multiple sclerosis who had requested an accommodation. The agency settled for over $300,00. In addition, the employer agreed to train all management employees.