Supreme Court Rules Antiretaliation Protections Extend to Employee Questioned During Company Investigation

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from, among other things, retaliating against any employee who has opposed unlawful employment practices. An employee who speaks out about discrimination on her own initiative is clearly engaged in conduct protected by Title VII. Until recently, however, it was not entirely clear whether the antiretaliation provision’s protections also extended to an employee who does not speak out about discrimination on her own initiative, but, rather, answers questions during an employer’s internal investigation into discrimination.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, held that the antiretaliation provision’s protection extends to employees who speak out about discrimination as part of an employer’s investigation. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that antiretaliation protection should only extend to employees who initiate a discussion in which they actively complain of discrimination. According to the Court, “nothing in the statute requires a freakish rule protecting an employee who reports discrimination on her own initiative but not one who reports the same discrimination in the same words when her boss asks a question.”
A contrary rule might encourage employees not to answer truthfully questions about unlawful discrimination. As the Supreme Court noted, “[i]f it were clear law that an employee who reported discrimination in answering an employer’s questions could be penalized with no remedy, prudent employees would have a good reason to keep quiet about Title VII offenses against themselves or against others. This is no imaginary horrible given the documented indi-cations that ‘[f]ear of retaliation is the leading reason why people stay silent instead of voicing their concerns about bias and discrimination.'”

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