In order to make a viable retaliation claim, a plaintiff must generally have evidence of each element of a what is called a prima facie case. The phrase prima facie simply means “on first impression.” In the employment law context, a prima facie case means the basic elements of a claim that, if true, give rise to an inference of discrimination or retaliation. So for a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must usually show the following elements (1) that the plaintiff engaged in protected activity, (2) that the plaintiff suffered a materially adverse action, and (3) that a causal link exists between the protected activity and the adverse action. If facts establish each of those elements, then under the law, an inference of retaliation arises, which the defendant must then rebut by producing a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse action. The purpose of this post is to briefly discuss what is necessary to show that third all-important causal link element under Fifth Circuit law.
The first thing that needs to be made clear is what level of causation is necessary to show the causal link. The causal link standard is very low. According to the Fifth Circuit, all a plaintiff must show to establish a prima facie causal link is that the protected activity and the adverse action are “not wholly unrelated.” See Medina v. Ramsey Steel Co., 238 F.3d 674, 684 (5th Cir. 2001). So how do you do that?