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Thursday, March 26, 2009

US Supreme Court Extends Anti-Retaliation Protections

On January 26, 2009, the United States Supreme Court in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee held that the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII antiretaliation provision’s protection extends to an employee who speaks out about discrimination in answering questions during an employer’s internal investigation. Because the Civil Rights Act does not define the term "oppose" in its anti-retaliation provisions, it carries its ordinary dictionary meaning of resisting or contending against, and a person can "oppose" discrimination by responding to someone else’s questions as well as by provoking discussion. The Court therefor held that an employee’s disapproving account of coworker’s sexually obnoxious behavior toward her in response to questioning during an internal investigation constituted "opposition" to an unlawful employment practice and was covered by the Act’s antiretaliation provision.

Although Crawford is not a wage and hour case, it will not be difficult to make the jump from Title VII's anti-retaliation provisions to the the anti-retaliation provisions of the federal wage and hour law, the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). In other words, advocates for employees will be able to use Crawford use it to help protect employees from retaliation when they complain about illegal wage practices, whether the employee or the employer initiates the conversation.

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