Timing of Adverse Action Is Prima Facie Evidence In Public Employee Retaliation Claims

The standard for public employees to show a prima facie case of retaliation has been elaborated by the Florida Supreme Court in Koren v. School District of Miami-Dade County (SC10-2366). Koren, a public school teacher, alleged retaliation in the form of false accusations of job abandonment and unauthorized use of a work-related password, and for being moved to a school 24 miles away, as a result of assisting a fellow employee in drafting a complaint alleging discrimination.
The Public Employees Relations Commission dismissed Koren’s complaint, and the dismissal was affirmed on appeal in Koren v. School District of Miami-Dade County, 46 So.3d 1090 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010), due to Koren not providing sufficient evidence that the adverse actions were motivated by animus towards Koren.
The Supreme Court reversed the Third District, adopting the federal approach used in retaliation cases and holding that circumstantial evidence of animus, such as close temporal proximity between the protected activity and purported retaliation, could be enough to establish a prima facie case of retaliation. Once a prima facie case of retaliation is stated, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to demonstrate that the adverse action would have been taken against the employee even in the absence of the protected activity (in this case assisting the coworker in preparing a complaint for discrimination).