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This week, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision clarifying what conduct constitutes “opposition” for purposes of a retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. This case expands the protection afforded to employees who provide their employers information regarding conduct they believe to be unlawful and effectively increases the liability exposure for employers who subsequently take adverse action against such employees. In Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, No. 06-1595 (U.S. Jan. 26, 2009), the employer, Metro, investigated rumors of alleged sexual harassment by its employee relations director, Gene Hughes. Although Vicky Crawford, the plaintiff, did not initiate the complaint, she was questioned during the internal investigation and indicated in response that Hughes had made lewd gestures to her on numerous occasions. Crawford subsequently was terminated for embezzlement. She then sued, claiming that the termination was in retaliation for her providing information about Hughes during the internal investigation.
The federal district court granted Metro’s motion for summary judgment, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision. The appellate court found that “opposition” to unlawful activity for purposes of a Title VII retaliation claim required “active, consistent” opposing activity, and in this case, Crawford had not initiated the complaint. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the protection of Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision extends to an employee who opposes or speaks out about discrimination not on her own initiative, but in response to questioning pursuant to an employer’s internal investigation.
To view the Supreme Court’s decision in its entirety, please go to http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/06-1595.pdf.
If you have any questions, please contact one of our Labor & Employment attorneys.