Protected Activity Need Not Involve the Same Employer for Purposes of Retaliation Claim


A recent case highlights the fact that an employer may be found liable for retaliation under federal anti-discrimination laws even when the employee’s protected activity is against another employer.

In Patterson v. Georgia Pacific, LLC, an HR manager testified in a pregnancy discrimination case against her former employer. Her current employer fired her a week later, and the employee brought a retaliation claim. In addition to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, and color, Title VII also prohibits retaliation against an employee who has opposed discrimination, or who has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in a discrimination proceeding, such as an investigation or lawsuit (i.e. Title VII’s opposition clause).

The trial court dismissed the employee’s case because she had not engaged in protected activity against her current employer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, however, reversed the trial court’s ruling, noting that nothing in the law limits the protected activity to the current employer. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit held that “a current employer may not retaliate for opposition clause conduct even if it is directed at or involves only a former employer.”

It is important for employers to recognize that an employee’s actions in opposing discrimination will be protected – even if it is directed at another entity.