Can I Be Fired for Filing a Complaint?

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Can I Be Fired for Filing a ComplaintIf your employer engages in discriminatory behavior, you have a right to complain. You also have a right to protection from workplace retaliation. Your employer cannot fire you for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint. 

As simple as this statement is, protecting yourself from unlawful retaliation at work can be a complex and worrisome undertaking. Hiring an attorney is the best way to safeguard yourself against the wrongful actions of a discriminatory employer. 

If your employer punishes you for asserting your rights, speak to our experienced employment attorneys at Smithey Law Group LLC. We focus exclusively on labor and employment law issues, and we can hold your employer accountable for discrimination and retaliation.

What Are My Rights Against Retaliation? 

Different states have different rules for when an employer can fire you. Most states, including Maryland, are “at-will” employment states. At-will employment means that if you do not have an employment contract, your employer can fire you for almost any reason or no reason. This rule gives your employer a lot of discretion over termination decisions, but this rule also has limitations.

Even if you are an at-will employee, your boss cannot fire you for a discriminatory reason. This also means that your employer cannot terminate your position for asserting your right to a non-discriminatory workplace.

Unlawful Discrimination Defined 

Maryland and federal laws prohibit employers from penalizing employees based on their protected characteristics or protected activities. If your employer fires or punishes you for any of the following characteristics or activities, they have broken the law:  

  • Age (40 and older), [Maryland is any age]
  • Asserting a right to a safe work environment, 
  • Attempting to enforce certain wage rights,
  • Claiming workers’ compensation benefits,
  • Color, 
  • Creed,
  • Disability, 
  • Gender,
  • Genetics, 
  • Having a debt-related wage attachment,
  • Marital status,
  • Military service, 
  • Nationality,
  • Race,
  • Refusing to commit a crime,
  • Reporting to jury duty,
  • Religion, or
  • Sex.

You can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights if you are a victim of unlawful employment discrimination. You also have the option of suing your employer in court.

Employment Retaliation Defined

Not only does the law forbid employers from making adverse employment decisions against employees for their protected activities and characteristics, but the law also prohibits retaliation against an employee who complains about discrimination. Additionally, it is unlawful for an employer to punish an employee for participating in the discrimination investigation or proceedings of another employee. 

Illegal employer retaliation can come in many forms, including: 

  • Job termination,
  • Demotion, 
  • Harassment,
  • Reduced pay, 
  • Unwanted job transfer, 
  • Reduced benefits, 
  • Threats of legal action, 
  • Negative employment reviews, and
  • Denial of promotion.

If you are punished or fired after filing a complaint or helping with a complaint, and your complaint seems to be the only reason for the termination, you can initiate legal action against your employer.  

Are My Rights Against Retaliation Absolute? 

Not every employee who suffers discrimination, complains, and suffers an adverse employment action has a strong claim of unlawful retaliation. Your employer can defend themselves from a retaliation complaint if they can prove that you were not fired for filing a discrimination complaint but rather for other non-retaliatory and non-discriminatory reasons. To win your case, you need to be prepared to defeat these types of arguments from your employer. 

As soon as you suspect discrimination in your workplace, start gathering records and evidence that can prove your positive habits and attributes as an employee and pay attention to whether your employer’s behavior toward you starts to change. If you decide to file a discrimination complaint and you are punished soon after, the records you have collected from the beginning can help you immensely. 

Evidence that can prove you were punished or fired due to a complaint and not misconduct includes: 

  • Personnel records, 
  • Educational history,
  • Work commendations, 
  • Disciplinary records, 
  • Employer correspondence,
  • Witness testimony, 
  • Performance reviews, and 
  • Complaint records. 

It is also crucial to keep a detailed timeline of your work achievements, your employer’s discriminatory acts, your employer’s claims of misconduct, and instances of punishment. Sometimes, putting these events in order can expose the absurdity of an employer’s declaration that you were fired for cause and not for asserting your rights. Proving that you were not fired for cause can be a difficult task that is best left to a skilled employment attorney

How Do I Seek Legal Relief for Retaliation?

You can file your retaliation claim with the EEOC, with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, or in civil court. And the remedies you can seek in a complaint include compensation for financial losses, job benefits (including rehiring or promotion), policy changes at work, punitive damages, compensation for emotional harm, and legal fees. 

There are some limitations on who can file a complaint and how much time they have to file. You cannot file an EEOC or Maryland discrimination claim unless your employer has at least 15 employees (there is no employee minimum for a sexual harassment complaint in Maryland). You have 300 days to file a Maryland claim. And you must file your EEOC claim within 180 days (300 days if state law also covers your issue and 45 days if you are a federal employee). Your attorney can handle these deadlines and help ensure that you receive all the compensation you deserve. 

Smithey Law Group Is Ready to Help

If you are the victim of an unlawful firing from a complaint, Smithey Law Group can help you win justice. We are award-winning advocates, and we have led many employees in Maryland to success in the courtroom and at the negotiation table. Our attorneys are also leaders in the employment law community who have written respected publications and taught on advocating for mistreated employees. 

At Smithey Law Group, we collaborate with you to get the best results for your needs in an employment dispute. If you are looking for respected professional guidance, please call us at 410-881-8572 or reach out to us online


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Joyce Smithey, a seasoned employment and labor law attorney, has over 22 years of experience representing both employers and employees in Maryland and D.C. Her practice, rooted in a deep understanding of employment law, spans administrative hearings to federal litigation. Joyce's approach is comprehensive, focusing on protecting client interests while ensuring legal compliance. A Harvard graduate, her career began in Fortune 500 companies, transitioning to law after a degree from Boston University School of Law. Joyce's expertise is recognized by numerous awards, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women. At Smithey Law Group LLC, which she founded in 2018, Joyce continues to champion employment rights, drawing on her rich background in law and business.

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