It might be obvious, but it seems a bit difficult to win on a claim for sexual harassment where all of the harassment occurs behind your back (and by “behind your back”, I mean situations where the harassing behavior occurs when the complaining employee is not physically present to experience or hear what is happening).
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed this issue in Pueschel v. Peters, 577 F.3d 558 (4th Cir. 2009), in a unanimous decision written by Judge Roger Gregory in which Judges M. Blane Michael and Robert Bruce King joined.
The Fourth Circuit didn’t have much difficulty reaching the conclusion that, for any claim alleging a hostile work environment (including sexual harassment), you can’t succeed if all of the misconduct about which you complain occurred at work when you were not at work.
Twenty Eight Years of Litigation!!!
This case grows out of an incredibly long history of litigation (including several different lawsuits and appeals (some of which were successful)) filed by Ms. Pueschel against her employer, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). The litigation started in 1981 and ended with this Fourth Circuit decision in 2009 (I am not kidding, and I am not sure this decision marks the end of all of her litigation).
Continue reading Can you be sexually harassed behind your back?
10–13-09: The West Virginia Supreme Court addressed the enforceability of employment arbitration agreements in State ex rel. Clites v. Clawges, 224 W. Va. 299, 685 S.E.2d 693 (2009) (opinion at Findlaw’s web site). This Clites decision is discussed in my chart of West Virginia Supreme Court decisions.
Clites Goes To Work For TeleTech And Signs An Arbitration Agreement
The plaintiff, Jill Clites, went to work for TeleTech in October 2004 as a Customer Service Representative. During new employee orientation, Clites met with a human resources representative for about 90 to 120 minutes, during which time Clites reviewed and signed a large number of documents related to the orientation. In the record before the West Virginia Supreme Court, there were disputes over whether individual documents were discussed with Clites and whether she was required to sing all the documents during the orientation session, but it appears that during that session Clites signed an arbitration agreement which TeleTech required of most or all new employees.
Clites remained employed at TeleTech until July 12, 2007, when she was terminated. She then filed suit for sexual harassment and retaliation. Clites alleged she complained about the sexual harassment, that TeleTech failed to take appropriate corrective action, and that TeleTech retaliated against her for the complaint by firing her.
Clites Files Suit In West Virginia Circuit Court
Clites filed suit in West Virginia Circuit Court in Morgantown. TeleTech then invoked the arbitration agreement by filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and by filing a separate lawsuit in federal court arguing that Clites waived her rights to a jury trial by signing the arbitration agreement. In essence, TeleTech argued that Clites gave up her rights to file suit and to a jury trial by signing the arbitration agreement, and that her only remedy was to file an arbitration proceeding (with the American Arbitration Association) pursuant to the arbitration agreement.
Continue reading WV Supreme Court Enforces Employment Arbitration Agreement in Clites v. Clawges, 10–13–09
4/1/09: The US Supreme Court ruled that “pre-dispute arbitration agreements” in collective bargaining agreements (union contracts) are enforceable, in Penn Plaza PLLC v. Pyett, 129 S. Ct. 1456 (2009) (5–4 decision).
This was an age discrimination case under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The plaintiff was a member of a union, and the collective bargaining agreement (union contract) required submitting age discrimination claims to binding arbitration.
The US Supreme Court had previously ruled, but not in a labor union setting, that arbitration agreements for ADEA claims were enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. (Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20, 26–33 (1991)). So the real issue in Penn Plaza was whether there would be a different result because of the union contract setting and the National Labor Relations Act.
Continue reading Arbitration Agreements in Union Contacts are Enforceable; US Supreme Court in Penn Plaza v. Pyett
October 25, 2007: In Colgan Air, Inc. v. West Virginia Human Rights Commission, 221 W. Va. 588, 656 S.E.2d 33 (1977) the West Virginia Supreme Court addressed claims of harassment (based on religion and national origin) and retaliation under the WV Human Rights Act, W. Va. Code § 5–11-1 et seq.
The plaintiff was a pilot, Rao Zahid Khan, who alleged that his co-workers subjected him to frequent derogatory and insulting comments about his national origin and religion (he was Arabic). The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Colgan Air (a) was not liable for harassment because it had policies and procedures prohibiting harassment and took swift and decisive action after learning about the harassment, and (b) was not liable for retaliation because Colgan Air terminated the employee (Mr. Khan) for a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason–he failed to pass a mandatory FAA proficiency test for pilots.
Continue reading WV Supreme Court rules that employer’s policy and prompt action protected it against liability; Colgan Air v WV HRC; 10/25/07
May 29, 2007: In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, 550 U.S. 618, 128 S. Ct. 2162 (2007) (FindLaw site opinion), the United States Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision, issued an important decision in a sex discrimination case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which substantially limited the time period available to assert a claim for pay discrimination. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Inc., 421 F.3d 1169 (11th Cir. 2005).
Ledbetter’s Claims of Sex Discrimination and Lower Pay, and the Trial Result
Ledbetter filed a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC in 1998 and then later in the year retired. She claimed that, years earlier in her career at Goodyear, male supervisors gave her bad performance reviews compared to what men received. She claimed that Goodyear awarded raises based on those performance reviews, so that her pay raises were reduced as a result of the discriminatory performance reviews.
Ledbetter went to trial and persuaded the jury that the performance reviews, years before she filed her EEOC charge, were discriminatory based on her sex, and the jury found her rights had been violated and awarded her damages based on her lower paychecks throughout her career. The trial judge entered a “judgment” in Ledbetter’s favor based on the jury’s verdict. So Ledbetter won at trial on her sex discrimination claim under Title VII. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the jury verdict and trial court judgment for Ledbetter, and entered a judgment in favor of Goodyear, based on her failure to file her EEOC charge within 180 days of when the performance reviews had been conducted. The United States Supreme Court affirmed, meaning that Goodyear won.
Continue reading US Supreme Court rules pay claims must be filed shortly after discriminatory decision; Ledbetter v Goodyear, 5/29/07