Tuesday, June 27, 2006

SCOTUS broadens anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII

In Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway v. White, __ U.S. __ (June 22, 2006), the Respondent, White, raised causes of action under Title VII alleging discrimination on the basis of sex and unlawful retaliation. White, a forklift operator, complained that her supervisor was harassing her on the basis of her sex. Following her complaint the supervisor was disciplined, but her duties as a forklift operator were relinquished and she was assigned to other tasks. She filed a charge with the EEOC claiming that the reassignment constituted retaliation. Shortly thereafter, she was suspended without pay for 37 days which led to a second charge of retaliation. The Company reversed its decision and reinstated her with back pay. The question before the Court was whether the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII prohibits actions that are not directly related to employment or do not occur at the workplace.

The Court concluded that the anti-retaliation provision does extend to such employer actions provided that a reasonable employee would consider the action taken materially adverse (i.e., harmful to the point that the action could dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination). The Court reasoned that an employer can effectively retaliate against an employee by taking actions not directly related to his employment or by causing the employee harm outside of the workplace and in so doing expressly determined that the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII are broader in scope than the anti-discrimination provisions. Under this reasoning the Court found that a sufficient evidentiary basis existed to support the jury's verdict on White's retaliation claim because it was not required to find that the challenged actions related to the terms or conditions of White's employment.

(contributed by Sandi Wilson)

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