Workplace retaliation is the unlawful employment practice in which an employer discharges or discriminates against an employee because that employee has opposed illegal practices that occurred at the workplace or because that employee has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any legal proceeding. Thus, an employee may have a retaliation claim in a situation where his or her employer wrongfully terminates the employee for testifying in a legal proceeding against the lawyer, or even assisting in a legal proceeding involving the employer.
In Avila v. Los Angeles Police Department, a police officer sued the LAPD alleging that he was owed overtime pay for working during his lunch periods. Avila, a fellow police officer, was called as a witness at trial. Avila testified that he worked through lunch without ever claiming overtime. He also testified that he witnessed other police officers working through lunch without claiming overtime. After his testimony, a disciplinary review board found him guilty of insubordination because he did not report overtime work violations to anyone during his tenure as a police officer. Subsequently, LAPD fired Avila. In response, Avila filed a retaliation lawsuit.
LAPD argued that he was not fired for testifying, but because Avila’s testimony shed light that he was not correctly reporting his work time. The Court was not convinced. Evidence showed that it was not uncommon for police officers to work through their lunch hours without reporting overtime hours. Oddly enough, only those who testified, including Avila, were fired. Further, Avila was terminated in the first placed because he had testified. If Avila had not testified, LAPD would have no knowledge of him not reporting working through his lunch break. Therefore, it was very reasonable for the jury to find that Avila’s testimony prompted his termination.
To sum it up, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee because the employee took part in a legal proceeding against the employer. Further, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for complaining of potential wage and hour violations. Avila v. Los Angeles Police Department is a win for employees as it shows employers that they need to be extremely careful when firing someone for complaining or being part of a legal proceeding against them.