January 26, 2010
Nashville Retaliation Jury Verdict for $1.5 Million Following Supreme Court Reversal
On January 26, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Crawford v. Metro Govt. of Nashville that the "opposition clause" in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit provides protection to an employee who cooperates in a sexual harassment investigation by providing corroboration of the alleged harassment, even when the employee was not, herself, making an allegation of sexual harassment. In that case, the employee was terminated after she provided corroborating evidence during an investigation brought about by another employee's sexual harassment complaints. The District Court in Nashville originally dismissed her claims, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that dismissal. However, the Supreme Court reversed in its January, 2009 decision.
On January 25, 2010 (that is, almost exactly one year after the Supreme Court's reversal), the employee finally got "her day in court," i.e., a jury trial on the question of whether she was unlawfully retaliated against for opposing an unlawful employment practice by answering questions during an investigation conducted by the employer. The employer, the Nashville school system, argued that the employee was terminated for performance issues, as well as some issues raised in an audit of her department... even though she had been employed by the school district for more than thirty years. The employee testified that she had been unable to find another job after the termination, and she lost her house and car.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee for $1.5 Million, based upon a finding of unlawful retaliation. As of the date of this news item entry, it is unknown whether the school system will appeal further.
A key note for employers: the human resources department had assured the employee that she would not be retaliated against for her participation in the investigation (as it should have done), but on that same day, it is reported that the human resources department also commenced the audit investigation of the employee's department. Employers, be very careful when you undertake an investigation to avoid acts which might appear retaliatory toward any of the participants. The Supreme Court has shown that retaliation claims will be considered very seriously.
Stay tuned in the event of a further appeal...