Wednesday, January 28, 2009

US Supreme Court Rules Against Company Accused Of Retaliating Against Woman Who Testify In Sexual Harassment Investigation

From the NY Times:

Employees fired after cooperating in sexual harassment investigations may sue for retaliation, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case concerning the scope of a federal law barring sex discrimination in the workplace.

The case arose from an internal investigation into possible misconduct by Gene Hughes, the employee relations director of a Tennessee school system. Vicky Crawford, who had worked for the school system for 30 years but who had not complained about Mr. Hughes, answered questions about him in the investigation.

This is an important civil rights ruling. Allowing employers to fire people who are interviewed during sexual harassment investigations for giving honest answers with no risk of being sued for doing so goes directly against basic civil rights protections.

The question in the case, Crawford v. Metropolita Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn., No. 06-1595, was whether Ms. Crawford could sue under a provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barring retaliation against people who opposed unlawful employment practices. In 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, dismissed the case before trial, saying the law requires more vigorous opposition than merely answering questions in an internal investigation.

This earlier ruling required all those who oppose unlawful employment practices to dramatically prove their opposition prior to any internal investigation. It wasn't enough for people to actually be opposed to unlawful employment practices.

Justice Souter rejected the employer’s argument that ruling in favor of Ms. Crawford would result in fewer investigations. But he said that employees who knew they were subject to firing without recourse if they answered questions from their employer honestly would be less likely to cooperate.

This argument is revealing because it highlights a common mindset in corporations which have anti-sex discrimination policies. These policies too often exist in name only. What's worse is that this woman was employed by a school system and this attitude can't help but permeate beyond the treatment of adult employees.

If companies, including school systems, cannot fire people without fear of lawsuit after those people are honest about sexual harassment in that company or school system then these organizations will do even worse investigations than they do now.

What a compelling civil rights argument.

They might as well admit that they don't do investigations of sexual harassment in good faith and their aim is to protect sexual harassers.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:13 AM   0 comments links to this post


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