Proving Workplace Retaliation in California

Retaliation against employees for exercising their rights or complaining about unlawful conduct of their employer is common. However, proving retaliation in California presents unique legal and factual challenges, as employers almost never simply admit that they retaliated against an employee.

One California court discusses and provides excellent guidance on proving retaliation in California Fair Employment & Housing Commission v. Gemini Aluminum Corp. 122 Cal.App.4th 1094 (2004). In that case, the court noted that to establish the necessary causal link between an employee’s protected activity and the adverse employment action by the employer (such as termination, demotion, or transfer to a less desirable position/location) the employee needs to show that he/she engaged in a protected activity, that the employer was aware of that protected activity, and that the adverse action against that employee was taken shortly after the employee engaged in the subject protected activity.

The court emphasized two very important points with regard to retaliation. First, even informal complaints to management about discriminatory employment practices are considered sufficient opposition to trigger prohibition against retaliation. Secondly, the court noted that even threatening to file a discrimination complaint without actually filing it is a protected activity.