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.
After a fired employee wins a $289,669 jury verdict in an Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) retaliation case, the district court takes it away on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, on the ground that the plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence that the claimed retaliation (reshuffling her accounts) actually caused her termination three years later. The D.C. Circuit affirms. The case presents a cautionary tale for a plaintiff who claims that a loss/reassignment of accounts caused further, more serious harm down the road.
Two decisions issued today demonstrate the challenge employers face in managing claims of retaliation. If the summary judgment records in these cases are to be believed, the decision-makers were all-too-eager to announce their intention to get even with employees who made complaints of discrimination.
The Tenth Circuit continues a split in the circuits by holding - once again - that an employee must lodge separate EEOC charges for acts of retaliation that occur after the first charge is filed - in this case, even after a civil action is commenced. The Fourth Circuit fairly recently held otherwise.
Plaintiff, a fired bridge crew member in Southern Illinois, wins the opportunity to try his claims of ADA regarded-as disability discrimination and retaliation against IDOT. Plaintiff claims that the agency believed him to be substantially limited in the major life activity of work, owing to his acrophobia, and that he was fired after complaining about being given dangerous duty beyond his limitations.
On a Friday afternoon, the Fourth Circuit in an unpublished decision dispenses some quick justice for a Title VII retaliation plaintiff -- with an assist from the appellate division of the EEOC -- holding that the complaint-filing stage is too early to decide whether a plaintiff can prove causation between a protected activity (here, complaining to management about sex harassment) and an adverse action (the company allegedly refusing to rehire her two years later).
A split jury verdict, of a kind now common in Title VII cases, is affirmed in full (in a non-precedential decision) by a 2-1 panel of the Tenth Circuit. The jury rejected the employee's gender discrimination claim, while awarding her $3 million in compensatory damages on her retaliation claim. The district court capped the award at $300,000, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3), but added $89,877 in back pay, and the Tenth Circuit remands for an award of attorneys' fees.