I have been passed over for promotion at my job twice in the last few years. I think it's because I'm a woman. Both times, a man with less seniority and experience than me got the position, and my manager couldn't explain why I wasn't selected. I spoke to the HR department about my concerns; they said the fact that a man got promoted instead of me isn't enough to justify an investigation. So I went to the local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed a charge of discrimination. When the company got notice of my charge, it fired me. My manager said that I was disruptive and not a team player and that my complaint didn't have any merit. Is this legal?
This is absolutely not legal. In fact, it's illegal retaliation, and you should amend your charge to include these new facts.
The same laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment also prohibit retaliation: taking action against employees who come forward with complaints or participate in investigations of complaints. If an employer were free to retaliate against employees who complain of illegal discrimination, employees would quickly get the message to keep their mouths shut. Because Title VII and other workplace discrimination laws are enforced only through employee complaints, this would undercut our country's commitment to civil rights.
Based on the facts you have related, it's not clear whether you will prevail on your complaint. However, your company should have investigated, including interviewing the decision makers to find out the reasons for their promotion choices. And, even if you ultimately could not win in court, that doesn't give your employer the right to fire you for complaining. As long as you have a sincere, good faith belief that your complaint is valid, you are protected from retaliation.
Filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will no doubt disrupt your workplace. The EEOC will ask your company to respond to your allegations and it may ask for documents, interview employees, and/or seek to mediate your claims. But disruption is the price of enforcing the law. Your company can't fire you because your complaint is disruptive, inconvenient, or difficult to answer.
Contact the EEOC investigator assigned to your case and find out how to amend your charge to include the new claim that you were retaliated against because you filed a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC. Adding this claim to your charge will allow you to pursue it in court. Ironically, whether or not the evidence ultimately supports your allegation of sex discrimination, your employer has responded by handing you a very strong retaliation claim.