Employees Questioned in Workplace Sexual Harassment Investigations are Protected

January 26, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an employee who answers questions during an employer's investigation of sexual harassment complaints is protected from retaliation.

Reuters reports that the court unanimously ruled the federal civil rights law’s anti-retaliation provision for employees who report workplace sex or race discrimination also extends to an internal investigation of a supervisor or another worker. “Nothing in the statute requires a freakish rule protecting an employee who reports discrimination on her own initiative but not one who reports the same discrimination in the same words when her boss asks a question,” Justice David Souter wrote in the opinion, according to Reuters.

The case involves Vicky Crawford, an employee of the Nashville and Davidson County school system, who participated in an investigation about allegations of sexual harassment made by several employees against Gene Hughes, the system’s employee relations director (see Supreme Court to Decide on Retaliation during Sexual Harassment Investigation). Crawford said during an interview about the allegations that Hughes sexually harassed her as well.

Investigators concluded that Hughes had acted inappropriately, but took no disciplinary action, and Crawford was later fired for alleged drug use and embezzlement – charges she denied.

Crawford filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging retaliation. However, because she had not originally made allegations of harassment against Hughes and only participated in an investigation that had nothing to do with the EEOC complaint, both a U.S. District Court and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her suit.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion is here .