Workplace Retaliation Question

My friend, call her “Sally”, works at a large community college. Recently she made a complaint to HR about her supervisor. It was a thorough complaint raising a number of issues she has encountered consistently over the last 2 years. Many of the complaints aren’t covered under protected categories, however some possibly are, but I’m not sure. These are specifically regarding disparaging comments the supervisor has made about the minority student population, frequent enough to make my friend (not a minority) uncomfortable, and her concern, based off these comments, of discrimination used in awarding certain grants, scholarships, etc the supervisor is in charge of selecting

So, now the supervisor has demanded my friend to present a formal explanation for something or other related to some issue the supervisor claims is traced back to Sally- and when Sally asked how she should proceed, without proper knowledge of the issue, and, what if she is unable to provide an explanation, the supervisor replied that “we’ll see what happens. We don’t tolerate backstabbing here”.

So, what protection, if any, does Sally have, or recourse if she is fired (or demoted, reprimanded, etc.) Sally, not being a minority, has not been discriminated against, but is clearly being retaliated against for calling out discrimination.

Since this involves a legal issue, let’s move it to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

What are the whistleblower laws in that jurisdiction, if any? Are they applicable to actions that are not illegal (i.e. not felony)?

You’re not going to get a very useful response here. States offer varying levels of protection to employees, and public employees are often under a completely separate system. Some federal laws do not cover state public sector workers. Title VII does, but probably doesn’t apply to her since she isn’t in the discriminated-against class herself. Onloy some federal whistleblower laws apply to public workers.

I do not see what the supervisor “did wrong” in the first place.
So her writing that letter seems a little vindictive (in my opinion, from what you have told us about the situation). It is irrelevant whether his beliefs made her feel uncomfortable… probably she was offended more likely…

I don’t have factual answers for you, much may depend on the jurisdiction of this occurrence. But I have some thoughts.

Your friend is a whistle-blower, and so it might be useful if she looks up state laws regarding protection for whistle-blowers. A whistle-blower doesn’t have to be personally injured by an incident to be protected as such.

Second is to document everything and take it or send it to a higher-level authority. If this is a community college, under what entity does it run - city, county, school district? There is almost certainly some higher authority than the HR department she went to, that should be appealed to.

Third is to go public, to the local newspaper or, if they have any kind of investigative unit, a TV station. Before going this route she should make sure all of her facts are in order and at her fingertips. I think it would be most effective again to present this as whistle-blower retaliation first, and only second look at the original offenses.

This is all assuming that your summary is accurate and that your friend’s boss actually did do and say these things. Proving anything is always an issue, which is why I think her best protection is as a whistle-blower. Once that is established she should have more protection against retaliation of any kind.

Other than potentially violating the community college’s policies? And then threatening to retaliate against a whistleblower?

Thanks for the responses. I was hoping it was a clear cut case of something or other, but had a feeling it would be more nuanced. I don’t think she wishes to remain working in this environment as it is, and is seeking other employment, just doesn’t want to get fired in the meantime. I’m more reactionary in a “don’t let him get away with this!” way. I’m also thinking if she at least goes back to HR telling them what happened, and her concern about retaliation, maybe it’ll trickle down to the higher ups that firing her now would be potentially dangerous and they’d not allow it to happen despite the wishes of one supervisor.

Not so, for whatever it may be worth here:

I second this. She should be documenting her interactions and needs to be sure that her own actions at work are above reproach, so if she’s got some verbal warnings for being late, taking late lunches, making personal copies at the copy machine, anything innocuous enough that can be escalated, she needs to curtail that.

Don’t quit, unless that’s what she wants to do. Be prepared to make a statement if she is released without cause (although it depends on the state she lives in) to indicate that she was pushed out of her job for voicing concerns at a public college of inappropriate statements. Its harassment to state that “we don’t tolerate backstabbers here”. Did anyone else hear this statement?

If she is covered by a union contract, this might be something worthwhile to ask her union rep about. They have legal counsel available for members, and probably have seen this kind of thing before. They can discuss her rights and perhaps intervene in a manner that puts the supervisor in her place.

And the Supreme Court looks like it’s going to gut public unions…

Of course, as always act A doesn’t preclude act B…

In other words, the complaint your friend made doesn’t necessarily preclude her from being at fault in another incident

I’m betting this will not end well for Sally. Fair or not? I don’t know, but l learned long ago life ain’t fair.

I’ll throw this one in:

In Oakland CA, a white live-in apartment manager sued the owner, alleging the owner had told him to always find a reason to deny black applicants, and if the manager couldn’t find a reason, to send the application to the owner, who WOULD find a reason.

The manager had not been discriminated against, so what standing did he have to bring suit?

“Owner’s instruction had denied him the benefit of living in a multi-cultural environment”.

The suit was allowed to proceed, using that as valid standing.

How much was good law? How much was a potential political bomb if the suit was rejected?

You don’t need to be a victim to bring action.

This case was heard over 30 years ago.