Two opinions this week highlight the power of retaliation claims: in each case, the principal discrimination claim failed on summary judgment, yet the retaliation claim was remanded for trial.
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.
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.
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.
An employee fired during her pregnancy should get a Title VII trial, holds the Tenth Circuit, where one of the putative decision-makers reportedly told the plaintiff "[w]hat, you're pregnant too?," and said "I don't know how I'm going to be able to handle all of these people being pregnant at once" and "I have too many pregnant workers, I don't know what I am going to do with all of them."
The Sixth Circuit affirms a $350,000 jury award for a police officer who was transferred far from her home, in retaliation for complaining about sex harassment. The court rejects a bid by the department to reduce the award, finding that the jury's calculations of back and front pay - and award of compensatory damages for pain and suffering - are supported by the record.
As part of Outten & Golden's collaboration with Labaton Sucharow on the Corporate Whistleblower Watch newsletter, Sage Counsel is an occasional feature addressing common issues at play in a wide range of whistleblower issues
Erhart v. Botfl Holding, Inc, No. 15 Civ. 02287, 2017 WL. 588390 (SD. Cal. Feb. 14, 2017)