Court Moves Forward EEOC Suit against Chrysler

February 23, 2011 ( – A federal judge in Wisconsin has refused Chrysler Group’s effort to dismiss an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claim of unlawful retaliation.

According to an EEOC news release, the lawsuit on behalf of two women employed in the company’s national parts distribution center in Milwaukee claims one of the women was taken off what the court described as a “coveted position” driving a power sweeper and assigned to more physically demanding work “picking” parts to satisfy a “hot order” in the “back order area” of the warehouse. The EEOC said that when the woman and a coworker complained that a male employee with less seniority should have been assigned to that job, they were accused of “disrupting the workforce” subjected to verbal harassment and threatened with discipline up to and including termination.  

Chrysler urged the court to summarily reject EEOC’s claims because the women were neither discharged nor suffered any other tangible loss such as a loss of pay, benefits, or position. The company said “the alleged verbal harassment and intimidation is simply not the kind of actionable harm which Title VII contemplates,” according to the press release.  

The court rejected that line of reasoning, saying “An adverse employment action [necessary to sustain a claim for retaliation] need not be tangible.” The court then reviewed the circumstances surrounding the statements to the women, finding that “the manner in which [the manager] delivered his message to each woman matters. If he were screaming and pounding his fists on the table while threatening termination, as [the women] testified, this scenario paints a much more hostile and intimidating atmosphere than if [the manager] delivered his message in a normal tone of voice, as he contends he did.” 

Because of this controversy, the court concluded, the trial should go forward to determine whether Chrysler’s behavior “would have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making a charge of discrimination.”