A district court needs to be reminded that Title VII and § 1983 protect different (if overlapping) interests in a government workplace, that an employee can elect a remedy under either or both, and that a § 1983 claimant need not pursue the administrative prerequisites for Title VII.
Henley v. Brown, No. 11-2561 (8th Cir. July 26, 2012): The plaintiff, a police cadet, alleges that she was treated more harshly during training than male cadets: subjected to higher physical standards; caused to suffer physical pain, a mace attack, and direct physical assaults; abused verbally; subjected to talk about her breasts; and ogled by trainers and cadets. She was also failed out of the program.
Plaintiff filed a § 1983 claim for sex discrimination and harassment, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the case on the complaint, holding that while the claims were covered by both Title VII and the Fourteenth Amendment, she could not "circumvent Title VII requirements by only pleading violations of the Equal Protection Clause under § 1983."
The Eighth Circuit reverses. Following the lead of serveral other circuits, the court holds that Title VII does not furnish an exclusive remedy for sex discrimination and harassment in public employment, and that such claims may be brought under § 1983 as well.
"[W]hen the employer's conduct violates not only rights created by Title VII, but also rights conferred by an independent source, Title VII supplements, rather than supplants, existing remedies for employment discrimination.
* * * *
"[B]ecause the availability of section 1983 as a remedy for employment discrimination turns on the independence of the right's source, rather than on the distinct factual basis of the Title VII and section 1983 claims, we further conclude an employment discrimination plaintiff asserting a violation of a constitutional right may bring suit under section 1983 alone, without having to plead concurrently a violation of Title VII and comply with the Act's procedural requirements."
The panel remands for further development of the facts of the case.