‘Causal Connections’ and ‘Temporal Proximity’ in Your New York Employment Retaliation Case

When your employer retaliates against you at work because you engaged in some sort of protected activity (like pursuing a discrimination or harassment claim or assisting in someone else’s discrimination or harassment claim,) getting proof of that retaliation often isn’t easy. That negative performance review won’t say your “unsatisfactory” grade was the result of your discrimination complaint. When it comes to proving the retaliation you endured, rely on a knowledgeable New York discrimination lawyer to help you get the evidence you’ll need.

R.D. was one of those employees who allegedly endured retaliation for a discrimination complaint. She was an educator who began teaching at a public high school in Washington Heights in 1997. In 2005, she became an assistant principal.

Things presumably proceeded uneventfully until after Y.D. took over as principal in the fall of 2016. Y.D. was 18 years younger than R.D. and allegedly engaged in multiple acts of hostility, including ridiculing R.D. and undermining her with other administrators and teachers.

Additionally, the principal allegedly took away several of R.D.’s extra responsibilities, such as removing her “College Board supervisory responsibilities” as well as her “duties regarding administration of the AP [Advanced Placement] exams.” The principal also excluded R.D. from the “College Access for All program,” a program with which the assistant principal had been involved for many years, according to the complaint.

By early May 2021, a disgruntled R.D. filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit. Later that month, the principal allegedly assigned R.D. no summer school responsibilities for the 2021 summer session, despite R.D.’s request for a summer school assignment (as summer school offered the opportunity to earn extra income.) The complaint alleged that the principal instead handed out summer school assignments to two younger assistant principals.

A month later, the principal gave R.D. an end-of-year performance rating of “Unsatisfactory.”

R.D.’s lawsuit also included a claim asserting illegal retaliation in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. To make out a case of retaliation, you have to establish: (1) that you engaged in a protected activity, (2) that the defendant knew about your participation in a protected activity, and (3) that you suffered an adverse action at work (4) as a result of your protected activity.

What Degree of Closeness of Time is Enough to Prove Causation?

That fourth requirement is commonly called a “causal connection.” You can demonstrate the required causation in a variety of ways. One commonly used way is to assert a connection based on timing alone.

To do that, though, you have present a cause and an effect that both occurred within a very small time window. In 2020, the Southern District of New York court pointed out that “courts in this Circuit have consistently held that the passage of two to three months between the protected activity and the adverse employment action does not allow for an inference of causation.” Other cases have held that a span of one month or less usually will support an inference of causal connection.

Even if you don’t have what the law calls “close temporal proximity” between your protected activity and the harm you endured, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a valid retaliation claim. Some workers have succeeded in other ways, such as establishing a “pattern of antagonism.”

The assistant principal’s case relied on close temporal proximity, and her allegations contained a pair of adverse employment actions that fell within the law’s narrow time period. R.D. filed her federal lawsuit on May 3, 2021. Just two and a half weeks later, on May 20, the principal allegedly assigned summer school to two younger assistant principals but denied R.D. a summer school assignment. Just six weeks after R.D. filed suit, the principal allegedly handed the assistant principal an “Unsatisfactory” end-of-year performance rating.

Many people who stand up against discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace face the possibility of additional harm as a result of their speaking out. When that happens, it’s called retaliation and it’s against federal, state, and city law. As with any harassment or discrimination action, a case involving retaliation can be challenging to prove. That’s why having skillful legal representation is so important. To protect your rights, look to the knowledgeable New York employment retaliation attorneys at Phillips & Associates. We have helped countless workers in New York City and the surrounding areas to get the evidence they needed and obtain successful outcomes. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today. The sooner you get in touch, the sooner we can start going to work for you.

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