Category Archives: Sex Discrimination

Single act may create hostile work environment, according to Seventh Circuit in Berry v. Chicago Transit Authority

A few days ago, I posted my article on PAR Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Bevelle , in which the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a single episode involving multiple uses of the N-word could create a racially hostile work environment.

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit just released an opinion in Berry v. Chicago Transit Authority, – F.3d –, – WL — (7th Cir. August 23, 2010), which raises the similar issue: Can a single instance of sexual harassment create a hostile work environment? And the answer was yes, depending on the circumstances.

Ms. Berry is Sexually Harassed in a Single Incident

Cynthia Berry was an employee at the Chicago Transit Authority. She was on her break and sat at a picnic style table with three male co-workers. A fourth male co-worker, Philip Carmichael, had followed her to the picnic area and ordered Ms. Berry to get up from the table. Offended by Mr. Carmichael’s “commanding tone”, Ms. Berry remained seated. Mr. Carmichael then sat down and “straddled the bench” so he was facing one of the male co-workers at the picnic table, and so that Mr. Carmichael’s back was close to Ms. Berry. The other three male co-workers got up from where they were seated at the picnic table and moved to the other end of the table. Then:

Berry says Carmichael remained where he was seated and began rubbing his back against her shoulder. She jumped up, told him not to rub himself against her, and sat down next to Hardy at the other end of the table. At this point,
Berry says, Marshall began telling her to get up from the table again. Not wanting Marshall to think he could order her around, she remained seated, but began rubbing her temples to compose herself. According to Berry, she next felt Carmichael grabbing her breasts and lifting her up from the bench. Holding her in the air, he rubbed her buttocks against the front of his body—from his chest to his penis—three times before bringing her to the ground with force. Berry landed off-balance, with only one leg on the ground, and says Carmichael then pushed her into a fence. Upset and wanting to avoid any men, she lay down in a bus for the rest of her shift.

 

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Sorry boss, I didn’t know you were having sex in the office!!

The West Virginia Supreme Court recently issued an opinion dealing with one of those stereotypically awkward situations, where an employee allegedly stumbles into a room where the boss is having sex with a co-worker. The decision was  Roth v. DeFeliceCare, Inc., — W. Va. –, – S.E.2d –, 2010 WL 2346248 (June 8, 2010) (per curiam). It was a 3-2 decision, in which the 3-vote majority consisted of Justices Robin Davis, Margaret Workman, and  Thomas McHugh. Justices Menis Ketchum and Brent Benjamin dissented, and Justice Ketchum wrote a dissenting opinion.

The Facts–Sex at Work

These are the facts according to the complaint in the lawsuit: Tricia Roth was a respiratory therapist working at DeFeliceCare, Inc. in Ohio County, West Virginia, and she was about to go on vacation. She was directed by Leslie DeFelice (the male boss/owner) to come to work sometime during the weekend preceding her vacation in June 2006. She was not told a specific time to come to work during that weekend. When she came to work as ordered, she “observed Defendant [Leslie] DeFelice and/or Michelle Kelly partially clothed and in a compromising position”. Mr. DeFelice instructed Ms. Roth to go into a conference room and wait–meanwhile Mr. DeFelice and the other employee got all their clothes back on. Mr. DeFelice then talked to Ms. Roth and told her to forget about what she had just seen, and threatened Ms. Ross with the loss of her respiratory therapy license and the loss of her employment.

Ms. Roth then went on vacation. When she got back from vacation and returned to work, she had a meeting with Mr. DeFelice that didn’t go well. Ms. Roth told Mr. DeFelice that she hadn’t told anyone about his sexual encounter at work. Mr. DeFelice proceeded to fire Ms. Roth because “he did not like how she was dressed” and “he did not like the style[/]color of her hair”.

Ms. Roth Files Suit–Case Dismissed

Ms. Roth then filed suit on legal theories centering around sex discrimination and sexual harassment, and–bada bing!–the case promptly got dismissed.

Ms. Roth’s complaint (the document which starts the lawsuit and describes the plaintiff’s allegations) focused on the sexual incident I have described above, but also made allegations about other sexual harassment–I will discuss those details below.

Continue reading Sorry boss, I didn’t know you were having sex in the office!!

US Supreme Court rules pay claims must be filed shortly after discriminatory decision; Ledbetter v Goodyear, 5/29/07

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

LillyLedbetter 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