After an employee complains about discrimination, if an employer terminates the employee a year later, can that fact — in and of itself — be a sufficient grounds for a retaliation? A District Court decision released yesterday said no.

In Thornewell v. Domus Foundation, Inc.,U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Thompson dismissed outright a retaliation claim where the Plaintiff alleged only that his prior complaint was the basis for his termination a year later:

[The employee] only alleges that he “complained about the discriminatory treatment that he[experienced]” (Compl. at 7), and that he was later terminated. [The employee] alleges that the date of his last complaint was June 3, 2004 and that he was terminated as of May 1, 2005. Id. at 7, 9. Standing alone, these allegations are not sufficient to state a claim for retaliation because the alleged retaliation occurred nearly a year after the protected activity (i.e. the complaints). See Clark County School District v. Breedon, 532 U.S. 268, 273 (April 23, 2001) (per curiam), reh’g denied 533 U.S. 912 (June 11, 2001) (citations omitted) (noting that temporal proximity between an employer’s knowledge of protected activity and an adverse employment action must be “very close”).

The decision is another indication that courts are starting to look for more substance in retaliation claims other than just the filing of a complaint and a termination.  The Court went on to note in the case that although the Plaintiff did allege other facts in support of his retaliation claim, he did not note the dates of those; thus, the court did not view such allegations as relevant to the inquiry.

For employment practitioners and companies that appear before Judge Thompson, the decision is interesting because of the judge’s own statements that he disfavors dismissing employment claims on the papers. His chamber practices statement indicates that he believes that:

dispositive motions are overused. In discrimination cases, he rarely grants motions for summary judgment that dispose of the entire case.

True to his word, he refused to dismiss an accompanying Title VII discrimination claim and a disability discrimination claim.