Refusing Supervisor’s Advances is Enough to Protect Victims from Retaliation According to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

sexual harassment in the workplaceThe overwhelming majority of women who are sexually harassed at work don’t report the harassment up their chain of command or to human resources. This is often a mistake because the Company may be able to avoid liability for the underlying sexual harassment, if it is not on notice of the problem. Failure to involve human resources can also leave the victim without legal protection from retaliation, even if no human resources complaint is ever lodged.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the jury verdict in EEOC v. New Breed Logistics, No. 13-6250 (6th Cir. Apr. 22, 2015). The jury awarded $1.5 million in compensator and punitive damages to temporary New Breed employees after filing charges against their supervisor for sexual harassment and retaliation. The appellate court confirmed the rule that simply telling your supervisor to stop when sexually or inappropriately advanced is protected “opposition” activity under Title VII.

New Breed is a logistics company based in New Point, North Carolina. They are a subsidiary of XPO Logistics, Inc. The company assists fellow companies in their warehousing operations. They maintain warehouses in several other areas such as Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles, and Kearny, N.J.

According to the EEOC’s suit, a New Breed supervisor sexually harassed three female workers in its Memphis warehouse. The women were subjected to sexual comments and even some physical advances. The supervisor then retaliated against the women after they objected to his sexual advances. They were informed by the supervisor that they would be fired if they tried to report him.

They were each terminated from the company per the supervisor’s request. The termination referenced the women’s poor performance and work ethic, even though they only held their positions for the short span of one week. It was also alleged that the supervisor retaliated against a male employee for objecting to advances from the supervisor as well and for supporting his female coworker’s complaints.

The takeaway from the case: “a demand that a supervisor cease his her harassing conduct constitutes protected activity by Title VII.”