Retaliation in an EEO World

56 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2014

See all articles by Deborah L. Brake

Deborah L. Brake

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Date Written: January 21, 2014


This Article examines how the prevalence of internal policies and complaint procedures for addressing discrimination in the workplace are affecting legal protections from retaliation. Retaliation has been an unusually active field of law lately. The Supreme Court’s heightened interest in taking retaliation cases in recent years has highlighted the central importance of retaliation protections to the integrity of discrimination law. The Court’s string of plaintiff victories in retaliation cases has earned it the reputation as a pragmatic, pro-employee Court when it comes to retaliation law. However, this view does not account for the proliferation and influence of employer EEO policies and complaint procedures. Reviewing the sociolegal scholarship on the structure and functioning of the EEO workplace reveals important insights into how retaliation law operates. This Article contends that, considered against the backdrop of how employer policies channel employee complaints, the picture of retaliation law for employees is not nearly as rosy as the Court’s decisions have led legal scholars to believe. Focusing on the interplay between retaliation doctrine and employers’ internal discrimination policies, the Article demonstrates that the lesser level of protection afforded to internal discrimination complaints creates stark dilemmas for employees who follow employer policies to complain about perceived inequality in the workplace. Two doctrines in particular, the reasonable belief doctrine and the notice requirement, clash with the role of employer policies in shaping employee perceptions of and responses to discrimination in the workplace. The Article concludes by offering a proposal for revamping retaliation law to better accommodate the realities of the EEO workplace.

Keywords: Retaliation, employment discrimination, workplace discrimination, EEO policies, EEO office, Equal Employment Opportunity, reasonable belief doctrine, internal complaint procedures, internal discrimination policies

Suggested Citation

Brake, Deborah L., Retaliation in an EEO World (January 21, 2014). Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 89, p. 115, 2014, U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-04, Available at SSRN:

Deborah L. Brake (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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