Court Green-Lights Retaliation Case
Chrysler Group has lost its bid to get retaliation claims filed against the automobile giant thrown out of court. A federal judge ruled instead that the claims should go forward.
The claims were brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act on behalf of two female employees who worked at a national parts center in Milwaukee.
According to the EEOC, one of the women was taken off what the court described as a “coveted position” driving a power sweeper and assigned to more physically demanding work picking parts in the back-order area of the warehouse. The EEOC said that when the woman and a coworker complained that a male employee with less seniority should have been assigned to that job, they were accused of disrupting the workforce, subjected to verbal harassment, and threatened with discipline up to and including termination.
Chrysler urged the court to summarily reject EEOC’s claims because the women were neither discharged nor suffered any other tangible loss such as loss of pay or benefits. But the court disagreed with that line of reasoning, saying that an adverse employment action necessary to sustain a claim for retaliation need not be tangible.
The court then reviewed the circumstances surrounding the statements made to the women, finding that the manner in which the manager delivered his message matters. If he were screaming and pounding his fists on the table while threatening termination, as the women testified, that scenario presents a much more hostile and intimidating atmosphere than if the manager delivered his message in a normal tone of voice, as he contends he did.
Because of the differing accounts, the court concluded, the trial should go forward to determine whether Chrysler’s behavior actually would have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making a change of discrimination.
An attorney from the EEOC says the decision is important because it’s a firm reminder that the concept of retaliation under federal employment discrimination laws is a common sense one.
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