Category Archives: Sexual harassment

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.

 

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

Drew Capuder will be speaking on disability and sexual harassment issues in Morgantown Oct. 20, 2010

I will be speak­ing (and pre­sent­ing arti­cles)  at a sem­i­nar spon­sored by Ster­ling Edu­ca­tion Ser­vices on Octo­ber 20, 2010 in Mor­gan­town, West Vir­ginia, enti­tled “Fun­da­men­tals of Employ­ment Law”.

I will be speak­ing (and pre­sent­ing arti­cles) on “Sex­u­al, Racial, and Oth­er Harass­ment in the Work­place” and “ADA and FMLA Update”.

Here is the full agen­da, and here is the fac­ul­ty infor­ma­tion. The sem­i­nar will pro­vide around 6–8 hours of con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion cred­it for lawyers (I don’t know the exact num­ber, but the sem­i­nar is a full day).

You can reg­is­ter for the the sem­i­nar online. For fur­ther infor­ma­tion, you can con­tact Ster­ling, and their num­ber is 715–855-0498.

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!!

Can you be sexually harassed behind your back?

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?

Was the boss “merely crude”, or was he sexually harassing her?

Sex­u­al harass­ment claims fre­quent­ly require judges and juries to dis­tin­guish between “mere­ly crude” behav­ior, which doesn’t vio­late the employee’s rights, and “sex­u­al harass­ment”, which does. The Fourth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals addressed that issue in EEOC v. Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic, PA, 609 F.3d 320 (4th Cir. 2010) (opin­ion at Fourth Circuit’s site), and didn’t have a lot of trou­ble con­clud­ing that the con­duct in issue could rea­son­ably be viewed by a jury as sex­u­al harass­ment, rul­ing in favor of the employ­ee. One of the key issues was whether the con­duct was “severe or per­va­sive” enough to con­sti­tute a “hos­tile work envi­ron­ment”.  The unan­i­mous opin­ion was writ­ten Judge J. Harvie Wilkin­son III, joined by Judges Andre M. Davis and C. Arlen Beam (from the Eighth Cir­cuit).

Doc­tor on Doc­tor Harass­ment at Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic

Stethoscope Dr. John Kessel was the own­er of Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic in South Car­oli­na, and was accused by a for­mer female doc­tor at the clin­ic, Dr. Deb­o­rah Waechter, of sex­u­al­ly harass­ing her. Dr. Kessel was Dr. Waechter’s super­vi­sor. Dr. Waechter worked for him for 3 years and quit, alleged­ly over a broad range of sex­u­al­ly explic­it state­ments made dur­ing most of those 3 years (I’ll dis­cuss the specifics below).

Dr. Waechter’s Law­suit

Dr. Waechter then filed a charge of dis­crim­i­na­tion with the EEOC, alleg­ing that Dr. Kessel’s behav­ior cre­at­ed a “hos­tile work envi­ron­ment”, and the EEOC then filed suit on behalf of Dr. Waechter against Dr. Kessel’s clin­ic under Title VII of the Civ­il Rights Act of 1964.

After dis­cov­ery was con­duct­ed. Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic filed a motion for sum­ma­ry judg­ment, and the fed­er­al tri­al judge grant­ed it. The tri­al judge rea­soned that the offen­sive con­duct was “not par­tic­u­lar­ly fre­quent,” most­ly involved “the type of crude jokes that do not run afoul of Title VII,” did not cause Dr. Waechter to miss work or feel “severe psy­cho­log­i­cal stress,” and did not include inap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing or phys­i­cal threats.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Was the boss “mere­ly crude”, or was he sex­u­al­ly harass­ing her?

US Supreme Court Broadens Definition of “Opposition”; for Retaliation Claims; Crawford v Metropolitan Government of Nashville, 1–26-09

1/26/09: In Craw­ford v. Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment of Nashville and David­son Coun­ty, Ten­nessee, 129 S. Ct. 846 (2009), the US Supreme Court unan­i­mous­ly ruled that an employ­ee engaged in pro­tect­ed activ­i­ty under Title VII’s retal­i­a­tion pro­vi­sion by answer­ing an employer’s ques­tions in con­nec­tion with a sex­u­al harass­ment inves­ti­ga­tion start­ed by com­pa­ny rumors about a male super­vi­sor. Jus­tice Souter wrote the major­i­ty opin­ion, joined by Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Gins­burg, and Brey­er. Jus­tice Ali­to wrote an opin­ion, con­cur­ring in the judg­ment, joined by Jus­tice Thomas.

Ms. Craw­ford Responds to an Inves­ti­ga­tion into Sex­u­al Harass­ment

USSupremeCourt Here is what hap­pened: Rumors start­ed cir­cu­lat­ing about sex­u­al­ly inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior by a male super­vi­sor, Gene Hugh­es, at “Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment of Nashville and David­son Coun­ty” (“Metro”). A human resources employ­ee start­ed inves­ti­gat­ing, and asked Vicky Craw­ford whether she had seen any inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior by Mr. Hugh­es. Craw­ford respond­ed yes, and described sev­er­al instances of sex­u­al­ly inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior. For exam­ple, Ms. Craw­ford had asked Mr. Hugh­es “what’s up”, and he respond­ed by grab­bing his crotch and say­ing “you know what’s up”. On anoth­er occa­sion, Mr. Hugh­es grabbed Ms. Crawford’s head and pulled it toward his crotch. The human resources employ­ee talked to two oth­er employ­ees who sim­i­lar­ly report­ed sex­u­al­ly harass­ing behav­ior from Mr. Hugh­es.

Con­tin­ue read­ing US Supreme Court Broad­ens Def­i­n­i­tion of “Oppo­si­tion”; for Retal­i­a­tion Claims; Craw­ford v Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment of Nashville, 1–26–09