In Skiba v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, the Seventh Circuit issued a helpful decision for employers facing retaliation claims under Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
The case involved a scenario in which an employee was a party to several complaints against a supervisor, who responded with threats of disciplinary action and termination. Based on those threats, the employee sued for retaliation under Title VII discrimination and the ADEA.
However, nothing in the record showed that the complaints or the supervisor’s threats had anything to do with the employee’s age or national origin. That was significant because Title VII prevents an employer from discriminating based on race, color, religion, national origin or sex, and the ADEA similarly prevents discrimination based on age. Both laws also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who make complaints regarding discrimination that is prohibited under the statutes.
In Skiba, while the employee attempted to argue that he was covered under Title VII and the ADEA because of his national origin and age, the court held that he had no viable claim for retaliation because his complaints did not have anything to do with those characteristics. As such, while the supervisor’s conduct was harsh, it did not give rise to liability under either statue.
As described in Skiba, being harsh with an employee, or further disciplining that employee for complaining about harsh treatment that does not reference a protected characteristic (like age, race, or national origin), is not necessarily actionable under Title VII or the ADEA. While employers might still face liability for such claims under other legal theories, and thus should examine employee complaints carefully, the Seventh Circuit’s decision provides a helpful tool in defending against retaliation claims under Title VII and the ADEA.