Title VII Sexual Harassment Case May Find Itself on the Supreme Court Docket

The Supreme Court’s docket in 2008 may include a case out of Nashville, TN involving sexual harassment. An article out of the Tennessean gives a synopsis of the facts:

The case began in 2002, when Vicky Crawford, then a payroll supervisor who had worked for the school system for 30 years, was contacted by school officials looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against Gene Hughes, then the schools’ employee relations director.Crawford told investigators that she had seen Hughes grab his crotch in her presence, that he had asked to see her breasts, and on one occasion, he grabbed her head and tried to force it into his groin. At the time, Hughes was responsible for investigating all claims of sexual harassment in the school district. The lawsuit alleges that the internal investigation ended with no disciplinary action against Hughes. But Crawford, and two other female employees who cooperated with the probe, were fired, the suit says.

Title VII prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees who oppose unlawful employment practices such as sexual harassment. At issue in Crawford’s retaliation claim under Title VII is the definition of oppose.

Crawford argued that she opposed Hughes’ inappropriate conduct by cooperating with the school’s internal investigation. In response, the school argued that Title VII’s whistleblower provision was not intended to protect employees participating in an internal investigation initiated by an employer. Disregarding Title VII’s broad remedial purpose, the district court and the Sixth Court agreed with the school’s argument and dismissed Crawford’s retaliation claim. Click here for the Sixth Circuit’s decision.

If the Supreme Court grants certiorari, the issue will focus on whether an employee who is terminated after cooperating with an internal investigation in which she alleges unlawful employment practices states a claim for retaliation under Title VII.