The Fourth Circuit reverses summary judgment in a Title VII retaliation case, where the plaintiff's direct boss allegedly declared that she "wanted someone of a different race" in the job, then proceeded to subject her to "constant surveillance, badgering, and criticism." When the plaintiff "told the City that she intended to file a formal grievance" about the hostile work environment, the defendant fired the plaintiff the very next day.
There are several lessons in this Seventh Circuit decision, reviewing a summary judgment and jury verdict in a Title VII and § 1983 case involving state university police officers. First, the court continues to consider the use of the N-word in the workplace to be virtually per se racial harassment. Second, the filing of false reports against an employee may be deemed a materially adverse action, for purposes of retaliation. Third, even if the law mandates strict liability against an employer for retaliation by a supervisor, the jury must still be instructed on the theory or it may be waived.
Title VII sex harassment law has persisted over the decades to place the onus on the victim to report the violation through the employer's anti-harassment policy, and - failing in that step - most courts find no employer liability. But the Third Circuit today issues an opinion that takes a step away from that stance, holding that there can be a genuine dispute about liability for supervisor harassment even when there was no complaint to the employer at all.
The Fifth Circuit vacates and remands summary judgment in a Title VII case, holding that the record presents a genuine dispute of material fact whether an assisted living facility took reasonable precautions to prevent a resident from sexually harassing a nurse, and also whether she was retaliated against when--as a self-protective measure--she refused to attend the harasser.
The U.S. Supreme Court held in CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 563 U.S. 421 (2011), that a summary plan description (SPD) is not enforceable as a plan document. The Sixth Circuit holds, though, that a court has equitable power to order a benefit plan reformed to agree with the language of the SPD, and that it is not necessary to find fraud by the employer to do so.
The First Circuit affirms a $2.6 million judgment for race discrimination against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, where the jury was presented with direct evidence involving "[t]hree of the MBTA's supervisory staff who either concurred in [plaintiff]'s dismissal or were involved in the investigation of the January 25th altercation, had demonstrated racial animus towards her."
One of the maddening things for employee advocates is how rules developed by the courts for one set of facts are used to swat down a case involving an entirely different set of facts. The First Circuit holds that's exactly what happened here, and reverses summary judgment when a judge used a standard developed for failure-to-hire cases to prematurely dismiss a forcible-transfer case.
Here's a case that may be of value to Title VII litigants, as well as in First Amendment cases. The Eighth Circuit holds that for an employer to win a mixed-motive case, where the claimed reason for termination was poor performance, it must offer "evidence showing [that the plaintiff's] performance would have indisputably caused her termination." That proves a heavy lift.
A Black employee who is denied a transfer and told by her supervisor that another manager "wanted a Korean in that position" - and is then fired a week after complaining about race discrimination - presents a triable case of Title VII discrimination and retaliation, so holds the Eleventh Circuit.
Can a boss's repeated offer of a "big bonus" to a woman employee as an inducement to date an important customer constitute quid pro quo sexual harassment? The Fifth Circuit today holds that it can ... but also holds (2-1) that the plaintiff failed to present a genuine dispute that she was entitled to such a bonus in the first place.