U.S. Supreme Court protects employees who report sexual discrimination claims under Title VII retaliation rules

Jan. 26, 2009 

Employees who cooperate with an internal investigation of sexual harassment are protected from retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Supreme Court held Monday. 

The case—see: Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson Cty.- involved a school system employee who alleges she was terminated because she agreed to be interviewed about allegations of sexual harassment made by several employees against a director. The school system took no action against the director, but fired Ms. Crawford, alleging embezzlement and drug use, in early 2003. 

Ms. Crawford denied the charges and filed suit under Title VII, but a U.S. district court and a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the school system summary judgment on the basis that Ms. Crawford had not initiated any complaint before the internal investigation. After the appeals court’s 2006 decision, Ms. Crawford appealed to the high court, which heard oral arguments in the case last October. 

A unanimous Supreme Court reversed the appeals court. Associate Justice David Souter wrote for the court: “If it were clear law that an employee who reported discrimination in answering an employer’s questions could be penalized with no remedy, prudent employees would have good reason to keep quiet about Title VII offenses against themselves or against others.” Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion. 


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