Trial Court Definition Of Retaliation Too Narrow In Millea v. Metro-North R.R. Co.

In a recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the court determined that a trial court had erred when it issued jury instructions that too narrowly defined what retaliation means. In Millea v. Metro-North R.R. Co., a railroad employee – Christopher Millea – brought a retaliation claim under the Family and Medical Leave Act(FMLA). When the court instructed the jury concerning how to make its decision about the case – it failed to instruct them that retaliation in the form of a “materially adverse employment action” includes “an employer’s action that is likely to dissuade a worker …from exercising his legal rights.”

Here, Millea brought a case for retaliation based on his attempts to exercise his rights under the FMLA. Millea had fought as a U.S. Marine and suffered severe post-traumatic stress and panic attacks. During 2005, he applied for leave under the FMLA and was granted 60 days of leave for 2006. Millea was supposed to notify his supervisor directly if he needed to take leave that was unforeseeable.

Unfortunately, in two instances Millea suffered attacks and took leave, but did not provide direct notice. As a result, Millea was docked pay and had a letter of reprimand placed in his file. He was later transferred to a lower paying position. Millea then filed an FMLA lawsuit claiming that the railroad interfered with his ability to take leave, and that the letter of reprimand qualified as retaliation.

At trial Millea requested the jury be instructed that retaliation includes actions likely to dissuade a worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. The Court instead simply told the jury that retaliation is “a materially adverse action.” The Second Circuit determined this definition was too narrow, and may have prejudiced Millea right to recover for retaliation. The court also noted that an employer’s formal reprimand is more than just a “petty slight,” and can affect an employee, leading him to fear for his job.

Retaliation laws are intended to protect employees who hesitate to complain about discrimination or harassment in the workplace out of fear they will suffer a materially adverse condition. Here, the Second Circuit determined that this may include such actions as a letter of reprimand.

If you believe you have suffered discrimination or suffered negative action by your employer in response to your complaint, you may have a claim for retaliation. Remember, you can fight back. For more information, contact the dedicated Atlanta employment discrimination attorneys at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP. We have years of experience handling retaliation and discrimination claims and can provide you the help you deserve.