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What is Retaliation in Discrimination Law?

Anti-discrimination laws, like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, prohibit employers from discriminating against their employees due to reasons such as race, gender, color, creed, national origin, and disability status. What many people do not know, however, is that these protections also extend to people who are retaliated against for reporting discrimination. But what is retaliation in the context of discrimination law, and why is it protected against?

Defining “Retaliation”

In discrimination law, “retaliation” refers to any act taken by an employer against a worker, or any other individual, who reports discrimination they experience or witness. Acts of retaliation may be responses to a report of discrimination to a company’s Human Resources department, or it can be in response to a complaint to a government agency. They can be overt, explicitly, responses to a complaint of retaliation, or they can be more subtle or indirect, but either way, they are a violation of employment law.

What Does Retaliation Look Like?

Retaliation can take many forms, similar to the act of discrimination itself. While they may be overt, and explicitly done in response to reporting discrimination, many are more subtle. Often, employers will construct a pretense to justify retaliatory action against an employee to protect themselves from legal liability. Some common examples of retaliation include:

  • Suffering bad employee reviews for no apparent reason
  • Being denied pay raises or promotions you are otherwise entitled to
  • Having your pay or benefits reduced for no adequately explained reason
  • Being denied sick or vacation days you are legally entitled to
  • Being denied access to training necessary for a promotion
  • Being excluded from company events or conferences
  • Being left out of company communications or meetings
  • Being formally disciplined, either explicitly for reporting discrimination or under an unrelated pretense
  • Being fired, either explicitly in retaliation or under an unrelated pretense

Retaliation does not always affect only the person who made the report about discriminatory behavior. Sometimes, it also affects people

What Do You Do if You Are the Victim of Retaliation?

Victims of retaliation, just like victims of discrimination, are protected by anti-discrimination law, and have the right to pursue legal remedies for the harm they have suffered. You can report suspected retaliation to your company’s Human Resources department, as well as to government agencies like the New York Department of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You may also try to pursue damages in court, depending on the nature and severity of the retaliation you have suffered.


If you have gotten into a legal dispute with your employer, it is important that you seek the guidance of an experienced New York employment lawyer who can protect your legal rights and advocate on your behalf. Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 39 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. To schedule an appointment with New York City employment lawyer Steven Mitchell Sack, call (917) 371-8000 or visit his contact page.

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