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New U.S. Supreme Court decision

January 27, 2009

Folks, this one is hot off the presses.

 

This involves a lawsuit brought by an employee (Crawford) against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville (Metro). Crawford, in response to an internal investigation related to rumors of sexual harassment by her supervisor (Hughes), reported that Hughes had sexually harassed her. No action was taken against Hughes, but Crawford was terminated shortly thereafter on allegations of embezzlement. Crawford sued Metro alleging she was being retaliated against for her report of Hughes’ conduct. The trial court dismissed her claim. The dismissal was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on the basis that Crawford had not initiated a complaint of discrimination but merely responded to questions in an investigation.

 

The Supreme Court reversed the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the trial judge. In so holding, it found that an employee can oppose sexual harassment by responding to questions during an internal investigation as well as by affirmatively reporting the conduct. The Court stated it would not countenance a “freakish rule” where one person is protected from retaliation because they reported it while another is not because they were asked a question.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE: This is a frequent concern of employees. Employees are fearful that if they respond to questions, in a harassment or discrimination investigation, that they will lose their job. If there was any doubt about the answer to that question, the Crawford case puts an end to it. Employers should bear in mind that if, during an investigation, employees confirm harassment and discrimination; those employees are most likely protected against retaliation.

 

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