Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fourth Circuit reverses previous case law on continuing violation doctrine

In Gilliam v. Department of Juvenile Justice, Gilliam brought a Title VII action alleging that she was subjected to a hostile work environment because of her race. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the DJJ in the district court. The main issue on appeal was whether the district court erred in ignoring the entire scope of the hostile work environment claim, including behavior alleged outside the statutory time period, in accessing the timeliness of Gilliam's claim.

At base, Gilliam argued that National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002) overruled Fourth Circuit case law holding that in order to pursue a continuing violation theory, at least one act occurring within the statutory period must--when viewed in isolation--be based on race. The panel agreed with Gilliam:

Contrary to the SCDJJ's contention, Morgan explained that a hostile work environment claim normally "occurs over a series of days or perhaps years" and certain behavior may not alone constitute acts of discrimination under Title VII. Under Morgan, an incident falling within the applicable limitations period need only, in order for the continuing violation doctrine to apply, have contributed to the hostile work environment. The district court thus erred in assessing the August 31 Acts in isolation, seeking to determine if any of them, standing alone, was discriminatory in nature. Under the continuing violation doctrine, none of the August 31 Acts had to be discriminatory in and of itself. It was only necessary for one of these acts to contribute to the behavior relating to the incidents thatoccurred prior to the limitations period.

The panel, however, upheld the grant of summary judgment because it reasoned that regardless of whether the district court properly considered the incidents that occurred prior to the limitations period, Gilliam had not shown that her alleged harassment was based upon race.

This cases was argued by me as amicus curiae for appellant.

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