Monday, September 24, 2007

How long is too long for retaliation

Does an employee who complains that she is being discriminated against and is fired three months later have a case for retaliation? According to the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals in Mendlovic v. Life Line Screening of Am., Ltd., the answer is no. In that case, Mendlovic claimed that she told the owner of the company that her supervisor was not "giv[ing] her a chance" because she is a woman. Two to three months later, she was fired. The court found that the gap between the complaint and her termination did not, as a matter of law, show a sufficient causal connection.

Often, employees feel emboldened after complaining about discrimination, as if granted some sort of immunity from termination. After all, no employer wants to buy a retaliation lawsuit, even if otherwise legitimate grounds exist for the termination. Now, at least in Cuyahoga County, that immunity has a duration. The taint of retaliation will wear off after two or three months, absent any other evidence of retaliation. Notwithstanding, any termination of an employee who has complained about retaliation should always be viewed as high risk, and should never be undertaken without serious deliberation, and in most cases the involvement of your employment lawyer.