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Post-employment retaliation: Negative job reference by former employer can be evidence of illegal retaliation

According to a decision from the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts in March 2017, a plaintiff’s allegation that a former employer gave a negative employment reference is sufficient evidence to lay out a claim for illegal retaliation. In Soni v. Wespiser, the plaintiff was a female, board-certified neurosurgeon of Indian descent.  She resigned from a medical center where she complained about discrimination. Three years later, her application for privileges at a new hospital were denied. This was the first time that the plaintiff had ever been denied hospital privileges.

The plaintiff alleged that she lost career opportunities and experienced reputational harm after the defendants supplied damaging references to her prospective employers. The defendants also criticized the plaintiff for complaining about job discrimination at the former employer and elsewhere.

The employer unsuccessfully tried to get her case dismissed by arguing that post employment job references are not actionable. The court disagreed. The employment relationship can extend into the post-employment period when the disputed issue is a negative reference. The court agreed that such references are a significant factor in future access to the job market.The court recognized that the provision of references is a customary privilege of employment for doctors who apply for hospital privileges.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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