Threats To Close Friend May Constitute Retaliation in Ali v. District of Columbia

In a recent case interpreting just what constitutes actionable retaliation as set forth in Thompson v. North am. Stainless LP, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia concluded that threats made by a Muslim firefighter’s supervisors could also be intended as a serious threat to the firefighter’s co-worker/close friend and as a result, constitute a viable claim for retaliation under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Title VII and other employment discrimination laws prohibit retaliation in the workplace. If you experience retaliation in the workplace, you may be entitled to the same remedies as you have in any other discrimination case. Retaliation doesn’t only mean that you have been discharged for making a complaint. The Supreme Court has defined retaliation broadly including any actions or conduct by an employer that would deter reasonable people from pursuing their rights. This has been extended to include actions by your employer not only against you but also a family or close friend.

In Ali v. District of Columbia, Ali and a fellow firefighter, Craig, were late in appearing for a drill. Ali explained that they were late because they were praying. The two men were then ordered to prepare special reports explaining their slow response time. Craig was told he had to make a choice between “his job and his religion.” Ali subsequently complained, calling the statement “out of line.” Ali was also told that if he pursued his complaint, members of the fire company, including Craig, would be disciplined. Ali then agreed to withdraw his religious discrimination complaint in order to avoid Craig facing termination or discipline.

A few months later, the department’s diversity/EEO program manager concluded the supervisor required corrective action, noting that while unrealized threats may not constitute an adverse action in Title VII discrimination, they can be materially adverse for Title VII retaliation purposes. Here, the fact that Ali withdrew his report because he had no desire to have Craig disciplined, was sufficient to state a claim for retaliation. The court noted that although differences existed between this case and Thompson, the connection between the threat and the protected activity was obvious. As a result, Ali could maintain a claim for retaliation.

If you believe you have been discriminated against but fear coming forward because a close friend or co-worker may suffer adverse employment action, and you may have a claim for retaliation. Remember, retaliation claims may be easier to bring and win than straight discrimination claims. Speaking to an experienced Atlanta retaliation law firm can provide you crucial insights and determine your next steps.

You shouldn’t have to fear speaking up for your rights at work. Discrimination laws are in place to protect you from harassment, discrimination and retaliation. For more information contact the dedicated Georgia worker’s rights lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for a confidential case evaluation.