In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Azanean Petty was forced to choose between her safety and her job at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility when her employer denied her request to wear a protective mask while working in an environment with insufficient sanitation measures and inadequate social distancing. Ms. Petty was forced to hand in her resignation after she spoke up about safety concerns and refused to work without a mask for the protection of herself, the juvenile detainees, and the other employees in the facility.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that retaliation claims for protected reporting and other protected conduct have overtaken discrimination claims altogether. It’s not that hard to imagine that the only thing your employer hates more than discrimination at work is actually talking about discrimination work. Now, the EEOC has finally issued new retaliation guidance explaining the scope of protected reporting under the federal anti-discrimination laws AND the scope of employment actions that will be considered illegal retaliation.
In a 6-2 decision that broadens First Amendment protections for public employees, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the lower court erred when it dismissed a lawsuit brought by a New Jersey police officer who was demoted after fellow officers saw him with a campaign sign for the challenger to the incumbent police chief.
As it turned out, the plaintiff in Heffernan v. City of Patterson was not actually supporting the challenger – he was picking up the sign for his bedridden mother. The defendants were not aware of this fact. They tried to use their ignorance to their advantage, arguing that the City should not be liable for retaliation since supervisors were actually wrong about Mr. Heffernan engaging in protected speech.