On a Friday afternoon, the Fourth Circuit in an unpublished decision dispenses some quick justice for a Title VII retaliation plaintiff -- with an assist from the appellate division of the EEOC -- holding that the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).
In an unpublished decision issued today, the Tenth Circuit remands for trial the Title VII claim of a fired certified medication aide (CMA), who alleged that she was sexually harassed by a resident. The panel holds that there were genuine issues of material fact about whether the behavior was "severe or pervasive," and whether the employer did all it reasonably could to prevent the harassing behavior.
A split jury verdict, of a kind now common in Title VII cases, is affirmed in full (in a non-precedential decision) by a 2-1 panel of the Tenth Circuit.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.
Courts have applied the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method of proof to Title VII, § 1983 and other discrimination cases countless times since its inception in the 1970s. The test classically allows employees who lack direct proof that their employers discriminated against them to raise an inference of discrimination, indirectly, by disproving the other lawful reasons that the employer might have had for its decision. Many courts get this test wrong, but here the Seventh Circuit gets it on the nose and - as a bonus - corrects the district court's application of the "stray remarks" rule and the "same actor" inference.
This author is pleased to announce the return of Daily Developments in EEO Law to its new platform. I will continue to report on the comings-and-goings of federal equal employment opportunity law in this space - concentrating, as before, on developments in the U.S. Courts of Appeals - and will be joined before very long by other, extraordinary attorneys from Outten & Golden LLP, contributing in their areas of expertise.
From the Fourth Circuit, here's a decision reminding district courts that the summary judgment standard allows all employment discrimination cases - the weak with the strong - to go to trial, provided that there are genuine issues of material fact for a jury or bench trial to resolve. Here, the panel finds that the district court read too much into the Fourth Circuit's Title VII precedent on sex harassment, and that the degree of severe-or-pervasive behavior is quite often a fact issue suited to a trial. (And the plaintiff, helpfully, got an assist here from the Appellate Division of the EEOC as amicus.)