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June 22, 2009

Supreme Court Case Widens Scope of Retaliation Protections

Filed under: General HR Buzz2:05 pm

January 26, The U.S. Supreme Court, in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville, clarified, complicated and expanded the scope of retaliation issues.  The Court held that an employee, who answers questions and conveys information about discriminatory conduct during an internal investigation, is engaging in “protected activity” under Title VII.  Surprisingly, to me at least, some lower courts had found that such involvement would not constitute “active” opposition under Title VII.

The case involved allegations of sexual harassment by another employee.  During an investigation interview the plaintiff, a 30 year employee, was asked if she had witnessed an employee’s “inappropriate behavior.”  She responded that she, herself, had also been subject to harassment.  (She had not complained about the conduct.)    No action was taken against the purported harasser, but the plaintiff was fired, allegedly for embezzlement.    She sued, claiming illegal retaliation under Title VII.

The Supreme Court, siding with the employee, basically said that it would be goofy (my word, not theirs) to “protect an employee who reports discrimination on her own initiative, but not one who reports the same discrimination in the same words when her boss asks a question.”   This case will likely serve to further increase the number of retaliation claims.

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