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Scott Wagner & Associates, P.A. Florida Labor & Employment Lawyer
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My Employer Retaliated Against Me By Demoting Me—What Are My Rights?

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In the context of employment law, retaliation occurs when an employer punishes a worker for engaging in a lawfully protected activity. To bring a successful workplace retaliation claim in Florida, an employee must prove the following three things:

  1. They participated in a protected activity—such as objecting to or reporting sexual harassment or filing a discrimination complaint;
  2. They were subsequently subject to an adverse employment action (punished); and
  3. That punishment occurred, at least in part, because of the protected activity. 

Workplace Retaliation: Demotion is an Adverse Action 

Under state and federal employment law a demotion can be  an  adverse employment action. The Seminole case on what is an adverse action in the retaliation arena is Burlington, v. White. As explained by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the term adverse action is defined broadly. It includes any employment action that “might deter a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity” in the future. An employee has been demoted if they lost pay, benefits, job responsibilities, or any combination thereof. If you were subject to an adverse action like  a demotion because you engaged in a protected activity, you should consult with an employment lawyer.

A Reassignment is Not Necessarily a Demotion—Though May Still Be an Adverse Action  

In some cases, companies and organizations try to defend retaliation claims on the grounds that no adverse action ever occurred. If the alleged adverse action is a demotion, an employer may argue that the employee was merely subject to a lateral reassignment. Whether a reassignment constitutes a demotion always depends on the pay level, benefits, and job responsibilities of the two positions in question.

Still, a reassignment could constitute an adverse action even if it is not a demotion. As an example, imagine that an employee who engaged in protected activities was reassigned to a lateral position at an office location that is 45 minutes further away from their home. If the employer did this intentionally—punishing the employee with a longer daily commute—it is retaliation even if not technically a demotion.

So sometimes a job transfer to a less desirable location can be an adverse action. If the new role has  less opportunity for advancement or if you have been stripped of  your supervisory responsibilities, these acts can also constitute an adverse action. 

Employers May Try to Conceal Retaliation With Pretextual Reasoning 

One of the challenging aspects of workplace retaliation claims is that most employers know that retaliation is against the law. As such, they try to cover up unlawful conduct with pretextual reasoning. Under U.S. employment law, the term ‘pretext’ is used to describe a false reason used to hide true motivations.

To bring a successful workplace retaliation claim after a demotion in Florida, an employee may need to disprove that an employer’s stated reasoning—often “performance issues”—is  false, unfair, or otherwise misleading. The sooner an adverse action (demotion) occurred after a protected activity, the easier it tends to be to prove that the two events are causally linked. When the adverse action occurs close in time to the protected activity there is a presumption in the law in favor of retaliation. So if you object or complaint and then get written up, moved or demoted just days later, that could be a strong case for retaliation. 

Get Help From an Employment Law Attorney in Florida 

Employees should never face demotion or any other form of unlawful retaliation simply because they exercised their rights under state of federal law. If you or your loved one was unfairly demoted after engaged in protected activity, please do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced Florida employment lawyer for help with your case.

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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