Racial discrimination can be devastating to employees in Missouri. It can create a toxic work environment, and if reported, can sometimes seem to make matters worse.
As the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports, federal law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who make claims of racial discrimination or who oppose work policies that they believe violate employer laws. Protected behavior includes intervening to prevent others from being harassed or facing discrimination. While employees who make discrimination claims can still be disciplined or terminated for reasons unrelated to race, if an employer terminates an employee because of a racial discrimination claim, they have fallen afoul of EEOC regulations. Wrongful termination is not the only type of retaliation demonstrated by some employers. Demoting workers or changing an employee’s schedule to interfere with his other obligations can also be considered retaliatory if done in response to a claim of racial discrimination.
A recent case reported in the St. Louis Register illustrates the legal recourse for employer retaliation against a racial discrimination claim. A white professor at Harris-Stowe State University was terminated from her summer teaching position after reporting to students that she had been discriminated against. In her lawsuit, Beverly Wilkins claimed that while she was told her position was going to be downsized during a period of budget cuts, HSSU administration actually sought to fill her teaching position with an African-American applicant, at an additional cost to the school. When school administrators learned she had told her students she planned to sue HSSU for racial discrimination, Wilkins was immediately terminated. Wilkins prevailed in court and was awarded $5 million in damages by a jury. The decision was upheld by an appeals court last month.