Sometimes workers have to report inappropriate or illegal practices in the workplace, and unfortunately their appropriate action can lead to retaliation from their coworkers or superiors. This can include demotion, dismissal, termination or discipline for reporting or thinking about reporting racial or sexual harassment or the harassment of a fellow employee.
What does someone do when they suspect they are or will be retaliated against for reporting inappropriate behavior at work?
Alyssa Burmudez protests the TSA for alleged retaliation
A former Transportation Security Administration worker, Alyssa Burmudez, says she was fired from her job after bringing to light the sexual harassment she witnessed. Burmudez, a veteran of the Iraq and Afganistan wars, was sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers and as a result suffers from PTSD. Burmudez took a government contractor position at the TSA in 2012 and became a full-time employee in 2014.
Bermuda claimed that during her time at the TSA, high-ranking officials she worked with directly made sexually demeaning comments about herself and others, spoke of women doing "women's work," called her and other women a "harem," and created unfounded rumors about affairs and "trysts" with other officials.
She reported the behavior, and soon after, says she found herself being retaliated against by the male officials, eventually leading to her being fired after several months - for using too many unscheduled absences and not being a "team player." Her boss, Mark Livingston, later sued the TSA believing that he was demoted because he stood up for Burmudez and others, refusing to tolerate the poor treatment of female employees.
Burmudez filed an EEOC complaint and saw the case drag on for months. She built a website, and then after waiting over a year after being fired, she decided to take matters into her own hands this past June: she now protests outside the building she formerly worked in, holding signs and passing out fliers that tell her story.
What we can learn from Alyssa Bermudez
Bermudez is a model of what one must do after witnessing her own personal sexual harassment and the harassment of other women in the workplace: report the harassment to the appropriate person or department, report any further retaliation or intimidation and contact the EEOC. Unfortunately she's had a long battle, but the law may be on her side.
If you've witnessed harassment in the workplace, directed toward you or someone else, it's important to speak up and stop the behavior in its tracks. But speaking up is so difficult when it's possible you could be retaliated against. Thankfully, whistleblower laws are very clear in Florida and across the country: you cannot be verbally threatened, harassed, terminated or demoted because you reported or want to report another worker's inappropriate actions or statements.
If you're being retaliated against after reporting sexual harassment or anything else at work, it's important to get in contact with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney right away. They can help you understand how the law applies to your situation and lead you through the legal process. You may be entitled to receive damages from your company, including legal fees. Don't let someone punish you for doing the right thing.