Here's a valuable case for employees suffering harassment (and lawyers who bring such cases). The First Circuit reverses summary judgment for age-based and retaliatory hostile work environment, holding that the district court put the plaintiff to an impossible standard of specificity to prove individual incidents of harassment. It also holds that repeated threats of termination can constitute constructive discharge.
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