STATEMENT OF FACTS: Sheila White interviewed with Marvin Brown and obtained a job as a “track laborer” with Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Company. Shortly after her hire date, however, she assumed forklift operator duties. This new assignment still fell under the “track laborer” position description, and White occasionally performed those duties although her primary responsibility was operating the forklift. Three months into her new job, White complained to the company that her immediate supervisor was sexually harassing her on the job. He was temporarily suspended and required to attend sexual harassment training. White was then informed that she was being reassigned to track labor duties only. White filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that the job reassignment was in retaliation for her sexual harassment complaint. Two months later after getting into a disagreement with her new supervisor, Brown put White on indefinite suspension without pay for being insubordinate. An internal investigation, however, found that White had not been insubordinate, and after 37 days she was reinstated with back pay. White filed another retaliation complaint with EEOC and, ultimately, took her case to federal court where a jury awarded her $43,500 in compensatory damages. The District Court denied a post-trial motion set by Burlington and eventually the Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s judgment in favor of White.
LEGAL ISSUE STATEMENT: Did Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Company discriminate against employee Sheila White by violating the Anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it 1) assigned her to different job duties after she complained of sexual harassment; and 2) later suspended her without pay?
APPLICABLE LEGAL RULES:
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(Antidiscrimination provision) Sec 703 (a) “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer-- (2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. “ (Anti-retaliation provision) Sec 704 (a) “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment, for an employment agency to discriminate against any individual, or for a labor organization to discriminate against any member thereof or applicant for membership, because he has opposed, any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this title, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this title.” Relevant Court Cases:
Ray v. Henderson, 217 F.3d 1234, 1242-1243 (9th Cir. 2000) Adverse employment actions are defined to be actions that are “reasonably likely to deter the charging party or others from engaging in protected activity.”
Russello v. United States, 464 U.S. 16, 104 S. Ct. 296, 78 L. Ed. 2d 17 (1983) “Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion.”
OBSERVATIONS: The facts of the case clearly show that Sheila White had reason to complain of sexual harassment by her immediate supervisor, given the statements he had made towards her in the course of her short employment under him. His treatment toward her obviously was discriminatory because it focused on her gender which directly violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is also apparent from the facts presented that Burlington retaliated against her complaint, though, by moving her exclusively to track labor duty. White was completely justified in filing a complaint with EEOC claiming that Burlington had violated the anti-retaliation...
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