Are Managers that Investigate Discrimination Protected From Retaliation?

In addition to prohibiting job discrimination on the basis of  race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, Title VII contains an Opposition Clause to protect workers from retaliation for advancing claims under the statute.   Typically, the Courts have defined “opposition” broadly to include a  variety of conduct in opposition to unlawful employment practices, including both formal grievances and informal complaints.  In Demasters v. Carilion Clinic,  the Fourth Circuit recently considered whether a manager, who failed to support a pro-management position in another employee’s sexual harassment complaint, himself engaged in protected opposition under Title VII.

At issue in DeMasters is the proper application of the “manager rule,” a doctrine applied by some courts that requires an employee to be acting outside of a management role in order to engage in protected activity.  When applied, managers that routinely accept, investigate or evaluate complaints of other employees are not participating in protected activity when performing their regular job duties.  After consideration, however, the Fourth Circuit rejected a per se extension of the “managers rule” to Title VII, holding that “the only qualification placed upon an employee’s invocation of protection from retaliation under Title VII’s Opposition Clause is that the manner his opposition must be reasonable.”

Demasters v. Carilion Clinic (Fourth Circuit, August 10, 2015)