Friday, July 2, 2010

Title VII retaliation case goes to trial

When an employee files a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC tells the employer that retaliation is illegal. Most employers get the message. Some employers ... don't get the message.

The case is Kaytor v. Electric Boat Corporation, decided on June 29. This case will be cited often for its hostile work environment angle, discussed here. But tucked into the opinion is Kaytor's retaliation claims. One of those claims goes to trial.

First, the bad news for Kaytor. She was fired from her job for insubordination after she avoided meeting with the company doctor who had reason to believe that she was suffering from paranoid ideation. The Second Circuit's summary of that evidence is not pretty. According to the doctor, Kaytor met with him when she began feeling dizzy at work and she made statements suggesting that people were spying and otherwise out to get her. These paranoid thoughts prompted the company to schedule an independent medical examination which Kaytor refused to attend. The Court of Appeals finds that Kaytor's termination for insubordination was legitimate and not pretext for retaliation. This wipes out Kaytor's claim for back pay.

Kaytor prevails on her other, pre-termination retaliation claim. After she complained about the sexual harassment committed by her supervisor, McCarthy, Kaytor was reassigned to work for McCarthy's subordinate and placed in an office with health hazards. She was also given no work to do, stripped of prestigious responsibilities and summoned to meetings that she considered superfluous. Her supervisor constantly yelled at her and she was ostracized.

Even if management had to separate Kaytor from sexual harasser McCarthy, that "does not account for the ensuing treatment of Kaytor or resolve the question of whether other conditions of her employment were so adversely affected as to dissuade complaints of discrimination." This language tracks the Supreme Court's test for resolving Title VII retaliation claims, set forth in Burlington Northern v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006). Under Burlington Northern, this kind of post-complaint mistreatment would discourage reasonable employees from speaking out. This retaliation claim therefore goes to trial.

No comments: