For the second time this week, a federal court of appeals upholds a jury verdict in an employment discrimination case - here, a $30,000 award and reinstatement for a Title VII retaliation claim. The Seventh Circuit overrules a defense argument that a demotion is somehow not a "materially adverse action" if the employee reluctantly accepts it.
Two appeals reviewing jury trials in Title VII cases came down today. In the first, the plaintiff - a physician - wins two claims at trial (retaliation and constructive discharge, centered on claims of racial discrimination), but loses the latter claim on appeal, necessitating a remand for recalculation of damages. In the second, the plaintiff lost her sex discrimination and retaliation trial, but the Seventh Circuit vacates and remands, criticizing the unnecessarily complicated and inaccurate jury verdict and instruction forms.
When you're litigation counsel for a major employer, it is recommended that you do not email the following: "the 11th floor . . . staff in the area of conference room 11E [are advised] to use caution about what they say in halls or open offices," for "[c]ertain people who will be in 11E have a way of twisting and publicizing their litigation induced hallucinations." The D.C. Circuit holds in a pro se appeal that a complaint describing this and other hostile behavior stated a claim for retaliatory harassment under Title VII, reversing a district court order dismissing the complaint.
Suing your boss is just about the most stressful thing you can do, especially when you are claiming sexual harassment. Once you make such a claim, you can be sure your employer will say one of two things: either he will claim that nothing inappropriate ever happened, and Therefore you are delusional, or he will admit that something happened, but, whatever it was, it was either trivial or consensual (or both) and so you are a liar and a slut.
Recently, one of the women who have accused Herman Cain of making inappropriate sexual advances said (through her attorney) she did not want to identify herself publicly because she did not want to become "another Anita Hill." What does it mean to "be Anita Hill." Professor Hill's story is in many ways a story of perseverance over the expectations of her time about the role of women in the workplace. Then, and still now, coming forward and alleging harassment often requires speaking truth to power. Yet, as Cain's accuser's reluctance suggests, it also a choice not live in anonymity and to invite controversy and potential ridicule.
The Seventh Circuit reverses summary judgment on a Title VII retaliation claim, where an employee with "no performance issues, no attendance problems, and no complaints against her" loses her job as bank vice president, after the incoming president is (allegedly) tipped-off that the employee complained abut harassment.
A jury finds that a promising woman neurosurgeon was bumped off-track by a campaign of sex harassment and retaliation, in violation of Title VII and Massachusettes civil rights law. The First Circuit affirms awards of $600,000 against the Hospital in compensatory damages on the retaliation claim and $1,000,000 in compensatory damages against it on the hostile work environment claim (with lesser awards for other state law claims), and $1,352,525.94 in attorneys' fees.
Here's our first published opinion addressing the recently-decided Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 131 S. Ct. 1186 (2011), in the context of a fully-tried case. The Third Circuit holds in this Title VII case that the district court did not err in denying judgment as a matter of law for the city. It concludes that the jury could have found that the plaintiff's Police Board of Inquiry hearings (which led to his termination) did not break the chain of causation from the retaliatory write-up that commenced the disciplinary process.
In Title VII retaliation actions, courts often focus on "temporal proximity" - the closeness in time between the protected activity and the employer retaliation - as circumstantial evidence of causation. But this shorthand can be misleading. In this case, the Seventh Circuit reminds us that an employer may be held liable under this provision even where there has been a substantial gap between a complaint of race discrimination and the employee's termination. Here, the manager who brought down the axe down on the employee believed that the employee had raised a fresh complaint, even though the record was otherwise.
Why on earth would an employer defending a federal Title VII sex discrimination lawsuit wait until the day after the plaintiff sits for her deposition to serve her with a Notice of Disciplinary Action, referring to events going back four months? The Seventh Circuit finds direct evidence that this adverse action was motivated by retaliation, reverses summary judgment and sends the plaintiff's retaliation claim back for a trial.