What are Retaliation Lawsuits?

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  • Originally Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 03 February 2020
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Retaliation lawsuits are legal actions that are typically brought against employers or companies by people who have been terminated, demoted, or otherwise deprioritized. In most instances they allege that employment status was changed not because of some failure to perform or other good cause, but rather as a specific response to something the employee did that made the company look bad — something that was totally legal and in some cases even required. Most of these lawsuits concern things like the reporting of internal fraud, discriminatory hiring practices, or improper reporting. Employees who betray their companies by turning this sort of information over to the authorities are often known as “whistleblowers.” Many countries’ employment laws offer certain protections for people who are included in this group, but people are still sometimes fired or demoted for reasons that, at least on paper, are unrelated to their whistleblowing activities. Retaliation suits are often filed in these situations.

Common Scenarios

Most claims revolve around some defined retaliatory action on the company’s part that can be traced to some permissive — but usually unpopular — action of the employee. For example, if a worker reports dangerous product flaws or safety violations and a company demotes, fires or otherwise punishes him or her at some later point, this could provide the basis for a retaliation lawsuit against the company. People who alert authorities to fraud of accounting discrepancies can find themselves in similar situations.


One reason for allowing these sorts of lawsuits is to provide support to employees who become “whistleblowers,” and to encourage them to inform authorities if their employer is doing something illegal. Not all instances of corporate retaliation make good cases, though, and the most successful litigants are usually those who are able to prove that whatever discrimination or deprioritization they felt was directly related to their reporting actions. Simply being demoted unfairly or being fired for personal conflicts doesn’t usually qualify.

Essential Elements

Although retaliation cases vary in different countries, many of them share some similar characteristics. They generally cover a spectrum of behaviors by the employer, including the reduction of wages, termination, or intimidation or harassment. In addition, the employee usually has to have felt some sort of actual damage, be it financial or emotional, that can be proved in court.

Differences in National Employment Laws

Just like other kinds of litigation, retaliation suits are undertaken in different ways in all of the countries around the world. Each national legal system has its own fundamental code, with aspects covering the issue of retaliation and the relationship between workers and their employers. Looking at a country’s justice system can help show whether the leadership in government is paying attention to potentially illegal behaviors by major national companies.

In general, the legal professionals that represent plaintiffs in a retaliation lawsuit will cite particular legislation that will back up their cases. For example, in the United States, a retaliation lawsuit may be brought based on the Fair Labor Standards Act, which includes protections for workers. Other cases of retaliation may be brought according to applicable portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or a part of the legal code called Title VII. In other nations, these lawsuits will be based on different legislation with different caveats and definitions, but usually the same overarching goal. Under most systems the employee who brings this sort of case will typically set out how he or she followed the law, how the company didn’t, and how real damages resulted.

Possible Inclusion of Family Members

Many modern legal systems also contemplate a separate class of retaliation case that involves retaliation not against the employee, but against his or her family members. Some of the most unique cases in this arena have involved retaliation against a spouses, romantic partners, or parents. Judicial officials involved in these sorts of cases must figure out whether the charged action constitutes formal retaliation under the existing employment laws, and importantly, whether it should.


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