Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) July 21, 2015 - Are employees required to keep detailed records of any form of sexual harassment that may transpire at work and file a complaint with Human Resources? This latest court case suggests that this may not be necessary.
“EEOC v. New Breed Logistics, No. 13-6250, 6th Cir., 2015, is interesting in that it challenges long held beliefs that if there is a sexual harassment policy in place and a dedicated method of reporting same, a company is on the right side of the law. This may not be the case any longer,” said Chicago employment law attorney Timothy Coffey, of The Coffey Law Office, PC.
The New Breed Logistics case suggests that an employee needs only to tell a harasser to stop, even if the plaintiff does not report harassment or retaliation to Human Resources or another individual in the company. The court upheld the rule that telling a supervisor bent on sexually harassing workers to stop is protected "opposition" activity under Title VII, and supports a claim for retaliation.
According to court documents New Breed Logistics hired three females for the receiving department. They immediately became targets of a supervisor, James Calhoun, who continually made unwanted sexual remarks and advances.
One of the new temporary hires, Tiffany Pete, demanded he stop his daily sexual comments. Capricius Pearson was accosted from behind with the supervisor pressing his groin into her buttocks. She asked him to quit. Jacquelyn Hines got so fed up with hearing sexual remarks all the time she gave him a piece of her mind. All three were fired on the recommendation of the supervisor in question. A male counterpart who stood up for them, Christopher Partee, was also fired.
During the trial, it was discovered that permanent New Breed Logistics employees received the company handbook that detailed how to handle sexual harassment claims. Temporary hires, such as the Pete, Pearson and Hines were not given a copy of the handbook. New Breed argued that since the three workers had not filed a complaint with Human Resources about Calhoun they therefore had not engaged in any protected activity and could not sue for retaliation.
While the court had acknowledged the detail regarding the handbooks not being provided to temporary hires, it was dismissed in relation to this lawsuit as supervisor Calhoun’s behavior was clearly in violation of Title VII.
New Breed Logistics was found liable under Title VII for the supervisor’s sexual harassment and retaliation. The court awarded compensatory and punitive damages totaling over $1.5 million dollars. In its decision the court said that if the women being harassed clearly stated their desire for Calhoun to stop directly to him, then they had engaged in protected activity, whether anyone else knew about it or not. In other words, a complaint to a harassing supervisor qualifies as protected activity.
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