Sex discrimination claims set for trial after two decades of litigation

Take away: In a gender discrimination and sexual harassment case with a voluminous factual record and a tortured procedural history – both spanning more than 20 years – the appeals court ultimately allowed trial of most complaints from the terminated employee. This case primarily serves as food for thought as to why the complainant’s alleged treatment persisted for years, where HR was proceeding, what resolution or dispute resolution opportunities were missed, and what changes in company culture may have occurred during this period. two decades. Employment disputes of virtually interminable magnitude should be the rare exception.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a telecommunications company employee’s allegations of a hostile work environment, retaliatory transfer of her job site to a remote city, and discriminatory or retaliatory termination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the new York State Human Rights Act should be heard by a jury. He also remanded for judgment an Equal Pay Act claim.

The employee worked for the company from 1990 until she was terminated in 2007. Starting in an office position as a high school graduate, she earned an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in business and was promoted in 1997 as a systems analyst, then as a sales engineer (SE). —within the company’s enterprise solutions group. SEs were typically responsible for designing and pricing telecommunications systems, as well as submitting design proposals. Initially SE I, the employee was promoted to SE II in 2003.

The plaintiff sued the employer in October 2004 for sex discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, denial of promotion, and retaliation for her complaints. She also claimed she was denied pay equal to that paid to some male colleagues for substantially similar work. In 2008, she filed an amended complaint alleging further acts of discrimination and retaliation, first in 2004 when the company moved its job site from the town where she and her family lived to a town 100 miles away , then in 2007 with his dismissal by the company. employment, allegedly as part of a downsizing.

For many years, the case bounced back and forth between trial courts and appeals courts. In this final appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in concluding, as a matter of law, that there was no adverse employment action or clear cause for retaliation in her transfer. on site. Regarding her other allegations, she argued that the court erred in concluding that her testimony, viewed in the light most favorable to her, was insufficient to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact for trial by a jury. The court of appeal essentially agreed with him and overturned the judgment on most of the claims.

The plaintiff presented evidence that overtly sexual or sexist comments, sexual innuendo, and gender-based disparagement were routinely directed to women in the company’s enterprise solutions group or made toward women in a long list of work situations. She alleged that most managers did nothing to discourage the misconduct and that some managers participated in it. Her own manager left her a note saying he “thought of (her) when he showered”, insisted that she communicate with him only in person, demanded that she stay alone in the office with him late at night night and followed her. at clients’ lunches against his will. The complainant complained to HR that the manager laughed throughout an HR training session, but the company did nothing. The 2nd Circuit refused to accept that no reasonable person could find the work environment hostile and abusive.

The 2nd Circuit did not hold that moving plaintiff’s worksite to a remote location could not be considered an adverse employment action because she was offered other options.

“There were not several realistic ‘options’ from which (plaintiff) could choose,” the 2nd Circuit said. “Three possibilities were presented, two of which a rational juror would be entitled to regard as temporarily or substantially unacceptable mirages.”

The only concrete option – accepting the transfer – involved very unfavorable working conditions, most of which were well known to the employer. A rational juror might conclude that the prospect of traveling an additional 4,000 miles each month to and from work could reasonably deter an employee – a mother with young children and other responsibilities – from agreeing to these terms.

The record was also sufficient to show the circumstances from which a rational juror could infer that the plaintiff’s termination was motivated by sex discrimination or retaliation following her complaints of such discrimination, the court ruled. 2nd circuit.

Finally, finding no error in the denial of equal pay claims regarding two comparators, the appeals court held that issues must be adjudicated regarding a third comparator.

Moll v. Telesector Resource Group Inc.2nd Cir., No. 20-3599 (February 28, 2024).

Margaret M. Clark, JD, SHRM-SCP is a freelance writer in Arlington, Virginia.