By Dan Gephart, August 18, 2021

I remember very little about second grade, but I can vividly recall sitting in class when my fellow classmate Teresa C. tapped me on the shoulder and very matter-of-factly said, “I know you did it.”

“Did what?” I replied.

“You murdered my father,” she said, “and I’m going to tell the teacher.”

Thanks to Catholic guilt, already deeply ingrained in me at seven years old, my first thought was: When did I do this horrible thing? I eventually realized the claim was ludicrous. I mean, my parents still weren’t letting me cross the avenue by myself. How the heck could I pull off a murder without leaving my side of Fitler Street? Yet, I was certain the teacher would believe Teresa and the police would storm into Room 202 (yes, that really was my second-grade classroom) at any moment. I was terrified.

Fear is a common reaction when an individual feels they’ve been unfairly accused, particularly if they have a lot to lose, such as a job or the respect of peers. Perceived injustice creates psychological discomfort – and the person instinctively tries to find a way out of that discomfort.

I never found a way out of my second-grade discomfort. I spent the next couple of days terrified that the police were going show up at school or my house and take me away. But then again, I was just a seven-year-old kid. For an adult supervisor in the Federal workplace, there is a more common, easier path out of the discomfort. And that’s anger. Unfortunately, while anger may make help you forget your pain for the moment, if can also lead to retaliation when unchecked, especially if:

  • The accusation is very serious.
  • The accusation will negatively impact relationships with others at work.
  • The accused feels that he/she/they are being judged.
  • The accused believes his/her/their job is in jeopardy.

It’s no surprise then that retaliation is asserted in almost 45 percent of EEO complaints, or that findings of discrimination based on retaliation comprised between 42 and 53 percent of all findings from 2009 to 2015. And in many of those findings of retaliation, the original claim under which the complaint was filed was dismissed.

It’s so counter-intuitive, but if you’re named in an EEO complaint — even if you are certain you are wrongly accused — you must find a way to deal with your anger. The other thing you can and, quite frankly, should do is be aware of what retaliation looks like so you know exactly what to avoid. For example, never publicly discuss EEO complaints, don’t make jokes about EEO, and don’t try to isolate the complainant. All of these actions have led to findings of discrimination on the basis of retaliation.

To learn more, join Attorney Meghan Droste on August 24, for the 60-minute webinar EEO Reprisal, Handle It, Don’t Fear It. In this the penultimate session in our Supervising Federal Employees webinar series, Meghan will discuss specific cases involving retaliation and provide you with several steps you can take to ensure you avoid retaliation. Reprisal will also be discussed along with intentional discrimination and contractor complaints during Day three of FELTG’s EEOC Law Week September 20-24.

After a couple of days, I began forgetting to worry about my imminent arrest. When I eventually told my parents, they laughed. Oh, and before Teresa C. transferred to another school a couple of years later, I became aware that her father was very much alive. [email protected]

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