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Temporal Proximity and Retaliation Claims

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits employers from taking retaliatory action against employees for exercising their legal rights when making complaints about illegal actions. For example, if an employee complains about sexual harassment or race discrimination in the workplace to their supervisor, the employer may not retaliate or take any adverse action to punish the employee for making the complaint.

Of course, most employers are aware of the general rules that prohibited retaliation. As such, bad acting employers rarely admit to retaliation. Instead, they make up a pretextual reason to take action against the employee. This can make retaliation claims challenging. Here, our experienced Chicago workplace retaliation lawyers discuss temporal proximity, a concept that can be used to help link an adverse action to a protected activity.


What is Temporal Proximity?

The legal term ‘temporal proximity’ simply refers to the closeness in time of two events. This concept can be very important in many retaliation claims, as employers will frequently attempt to cover their tracks by trying to disguise their retaliation as legitimate discipline, or claim the employee had poor performance. For a better understanding of how it works, consider the following example: On July 1st, a female employee at a Chicago company files a sexual harassment claim against her boss. Notably, she has worked at this firm for more than ten years without problems. On July 21st, she is fired from the company for “poor performance”. Certainly, poor performance is a valid reason to terminate a worker, if true. However, as these two events are very close in time, there is strong implication that the termination was based on her complaint of harassment.


Temporal Proximity is Rarely Dispositive

 In the vast majority of cases, temporal proximity is simply one piece (albeit an important piece) of the larger puzzle. It typically must be put together with additional evidence. But the closer the employee’s protected activity is to the adverse action, the more likely the court will find that termination was based on the protected complaint, and that the claims of performance were only a pretext made up by the employer. If you believe your employer made up a pretextual reason to take adverse action against you, you need to speak to an experienced attorney immediately.


Contact Our Office Today 

At Goldman & Ehrlich, our Chicago employee rights attorneys have extensive experience handling retaliation claims in both Illinois and Southwestern Michigan. If you need help with your retaliation claim, please call us today at 312-332-6733 or contact us directly through our website to request your fully confidential initial legal consultation.