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Civil Rights News | Jan. 24, 2023

How to Spot and Report Retaliation

By Arcady Darter, Regional Deputy Director, Region 3, Civil Rights Directorate

As the Civil Rights Directorate’s Anti-Retaliation Campaign continues, today’s topic is spotting and reporting retaliation. Workplace retaliation can take many forms and it is important for employees to understand how to identify retaliation and the ways to report it. But how does one determine if an action is retaliatory?

Elements of Retaliation:

Retaliation occurs when an employer takes actions or negative behaviors against an employee for engaging in legally protected Equal Employment Opportunity/Equal Opportunity (EEO/EO) activity such as reporting discrimination and harassment or participating in an investigation of harassment. Let’s break down the components of retaliation:

  • First, for an employee or applicant to file a complaint on the basis of retaliation, they must have engaged in a protected activity. This means that the employee asserted their rights by filing an EEO/EO complaint, being a witness to an EEO/EO complaint, or simply contacting the Civil Rights Directorate for information regarding the complaint process. Pointing out exclusionary hiring practices, resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others from harassment or discrimination are also examples of protected activities.
  • The second element of a retaliation claim is that after engaging in a protected activity, the employee or applicant suffers an unfavorable action from their employer. For instance, adverse actions can include being fired, being passed over for a promotion, or receiving low-performance reviews after speaking out and engaging in a protected activity.
  • The final element of a retaliation claim is that there is a connection and evidence that shows the adverse action was taken because of the protected activity. This means that the employees’ participation in protected activity motivated the employer’s adverse action or behaviors.


Let’s put these elements together and dive into fictional scenarios to better portray retaliation in the workplace. Can you identify which scenarios constitute retaliation?

Scenario 1: Alex is a poor performer at work and his supervisor Capt. Dawn Mathers maintains records about his tardiness and lack of effort. Capt. Mathers disciplines him with a written and verbal warning. After completing Alex’s next performance review, Capt. Mathers advises him that he “failed to meet” standards. Alex files a complaint alleging discrimination based on his race. The investigation finds Capt. Mather’s range of past documentation that backs her claims that Alex has always been a poor performer and her adverse actions weren’t based on his race. 

Scenario 2: Lacey works at Base New Orleans as a technical subject matter expert and has always received “exceeds standards” on her performance reviews. She is four months pregnant and since her pregnancy, she has requested more time off and schedule adjustments to attend necessary doctor’s appointments. Gabe, her supervisor, has had enough and refuses to accommodate any more time off because it is becoming a nuisance to him. Lacey files an EO complaint alleging that she is being discriminated against based on sex (pregnancy). During her next performance review, she notices that she receives a negative rating.

Scenario 3: Jenna notices that her coworker Sam is being harassed due to his age (56 years old) from their supervisor, Max. Max will openly make jokes about how Sam is from the stone age compared to some of the technology they use, and Max constantly refers to Sam as a “boomer.” It got to the point where Max began to exclude Sam from important meetings and decision-making events on a project he was working on. Jenna decides to reach out to her local Civil Rights Service Provider to get more information on behalf of Sam about the complaint process. Max finds out about this and transfers Jenna to another shift.

Scenarios 2 and 3 are examples of potential workplace retaliation. In these scenarios, each employee participated in a protected activity and reported discrimination or harassment which was validated during the investigation. Their supervisors adversely affected their employment through various means of discipline or other avenues of retaliation.

Scenario 1 does not showcase an example of retaliation. Alex has always been a poor performer and this fact was validated during the investigation.

We just reviewed various scenarios about spotting workplace retaliation which can help understand what it looks like, but what can be done about it?

Reporting Retaliation

Choosing to speak up about workplace issues like retaliation helps build a healthy and respectful work environment. Every Coast Guard service member, employee, or applicant has the right to report and file a complaint, cooperate with an investigation, or advocate for coworkers experiencing harassment, discrimination, and mistreatment.

To report an alleged discriminatory event based on retaliation, contact your local Civil Rights Service Provider (CRSP) within 45 days of the alleged event. Participating in the Coast Guard’s complaint process is protected from retaliation under all circumstances. CRSPs are located throughout the Coast Guard and serve as initial points of contact to help both civilian and military members with EEO and EO processes. Once contacted, the CRSP will provide an in-depth discussion of the complaint process and will also assist the individual by providing information on filing a formal complaint.

Bystanders or witnesses play an essential role in combatting retaliatory behaviors and can report alleged instances using the same processes.

The next article in the Civil Rights Directorate’s Anti-Retaliation campaign will identify what are some of the best practices that can be taken to prevent workplace retaliation.