Deborah Malin worked in the IT department of a health care company. When she told her boss that she was going to report a co-worker to the human resources department for sexual harassment, her boss strongly discouraged her. But she reported the co-worker anyway.
Over the next three years, Deborah applied for several promotions, but she didn’t get any of them. Three years later, her department was reorganized, and she was demoted. She filed a lawsuit claiming that her boss had retaliated against her because of her harassment complaint three years earlier.
Her company argued in court that three years is a long time, and it didn’t make any sense to claim that Deborah was still being held back for something that happened literally years in the past.
But a federal appeals court in Chicago said that there’s no “time limit” on retaliation. Since it was the same boss who was upset about her harassment complaint who denied her promotions and ultimately demoted her, she could argue that she was still being punished years after the fact. (Especially since, once her boss left and she got a new boss, she quickly received a promotion.)
It’s always a tricky situation when employees exercise their legal rights in a way that a supervisor doesn’t appreciate. But companies must be careful to continue to treat such employees fairly – even many years down the road.