Dell Graham attorneys represent employers against claims alleging discrimination involving race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status, violations of Title VII, and the Family Medical Leave Act. We handle cases in state and federal courts and before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations claiming retaliation, and workplace violations of Chapter 760.
Employers should be aware of a recent decision from the First District Court of Appeal regarding employee relations. In Martha Gates v. Gadsden County School Board, a teacher filed a Title VII discrimination lawsuit against her employer and resigned from her teaching position. However, she continued to participate as a volunteer in a mentoring program. Approximately six months later, the district prohibited the teacher from continuing to volunteer with the program. In response, she sued the district for retaliating against her. The school district moved for summary judgment because volunteers do not qualify for protection under Title VII. This motion was granted by the court but appealed by the teacher. On appeal, the court reversed and reinstated the lawsuit because the teacher was a former employee of the district. Former employees are protected under Title VII.
The most significant aspect of this case is the extremely low standard the court set for what can constitute retaliation. The court noted that whether conduct by an employer is “materially adverse employment action” should almost always be left up to a jury. Therefore, it will be extremely difficult to obtain summary judgment on these types of cases. In this instance, the court held that a jury could decide whether or not removing a former employee from a voluntary mentor program was adverse action. Relying on the United States Supreme Court case of Burlington Northern v. White, the court noted that “anything more than the most petty and trivial actions against an employee should be considered ‘materially adverse’ to [him/her] and thus constitute an adverse employment action.”