In a recent decision, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court upheld a $1.5 million jury verdict in favor of three females employed as temporary workers by New Breed Logistics. The women claimed that they were subjected to sexual harassment and advances by a supervisor with the supply chain logistics company.
At issue is whether the employees’ complaints and requests to stop the unlawful behavior – as well as complaints about the harassment by a male co-worker – were considered protected speech under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to the lawsuit, the three women accused the male supervisor of making repeated sexually suggestive comments, some of which were accompanied by physical contact. Another male employee who worked closely with the women witnessed the harassment firsthand.
The female employees demanded that the supervisor cease the comments and unwanted touching, and the male employee told the supervisor to “calm down.” Shortly after complaining directly to the supervisor, all four workers were fired.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission initiated a lawsuit against New Breed on behalf of the four employees alleging violation of Title VII and retaliation. The jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages in their favor, but New Breed appealed, asserting that the workers had to complain to someone other than the “harasser” in order for their complaints to be “protected activity” under Title VII. The Sixth Circuit rejected this argument and concluded the employees’ requests to stop and their subsequent terminations were enough to support their retaliation claims.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. If you believe you have been the victim of unwanted sexual advances and sexually suggestive remarks in the course of your employment, the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Employment Litigation Group are here to help – please contact us today to discuss your situation.