Supreme Court Hears Third-Party Retaliation Case

By Teresa Anderson


In the case, the city of Nashville, Tennessee, called Vicky Crawford, who had worked with the alleged harasser for several years, for an interview. Crawford told investigators that the accused had sexually harassed her and other employees. Two other employees gave similar evidence. (The city found that the accused had harassed his employees but did not take any disciplinary action against him. Instead, the city mandated sexual harassment training and education for the entire staff.)

After the sexual harassment investigation was complete, the city launched investigations of the three people who claimed that they had been harassed. All three were fired. Crawford was terminated after 30 years of service. She was accused of embezzlement and drug use, charges later found to be false.

Crawford filed a retaliation lawsuit against the city, claiming that she was fired in retaliation for her role in the sexual-harassment investigation. A federal court ruled that employees involved in internal investigations into wrongdoing are protected from adverse employment actions if they oppose that wrongdoing. Crawford, however, did not fit into that category, the federal court argued, because she did not bring a sexual harassment claim against Hughes nor did she pursue the matter during or after the investigation.

The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that Crawford did not need to bring a formal sexual harassment claim to be protected from retaliation.

In the written opinion of the case, the Court noted that “nothing in the statute requires a freakish rule protecting an employee who reports discrimination on her own initiative but not [protecting] one who reports the same discrimination in the same words when asked a question.”

♦ Photo by ken mccown/Flickr


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