Terminating Employee for Complaining About Harassment Not OK

May 18th, 2015

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES, May 18, 2015

A jury awarded more than $1.5 million in a lawsuit where three women, despite never making formal complaints, asked their supervisor to stop behavior they felt was sexual harassment. Each of them, along with a male co-worker who also found the behavior offensive, was terminated, but only one of the women was fired by the harassing supervisor. The remaining three received negative performance reviews, and official decisions to end their employment were made by other parties.

After filing with the Equality Employment Opportunity Commission, the four filed a lawsuit that resulted in a jury award of over 1.5 million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. The employer appealed, and the Sixth District U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the award. The court, in extending Title VII protection of employees from formal complaints of unlawful practices to simple acts such as just “telling a supervisor to stop the conduct.” EEOC v. New Breed Logistics, No. 13-6250, 2015 BL 114197, (6th Cir. Apr. 22, 2015)

Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §2000e-3(a) (Opposition Clause) states that it is unlawful for any employer to discriminate against an employee who has “opposed” a practice, which is an unlawful employment practice. Previous interpretations of Title VII had generally only viewed making a formal complaint, as being protected from retaliation. The appeals court endorsed the trial court’s decision that protected conduct that “can be as simple as telling a supervisor to stop.” Additionally, even though three claimants were terminated by others, the court extended liability for all four terminations since the harassing supervisor was “the driving force behind the employment action.”

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