Supreme Court to Decide on Retaliation during Sexual Harassment Investigation

January 18, 2008 ( - The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a Tennessee school retaliation case.

At issue is whether employees who cooperate with an internal investigation of sexual harassment charges are protected from retaliation under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to a Business Insurance report.

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, Business Insurance said. Crawford alleged that during an interview about the allegation with Hughes, he sexually harassed her as well.

Investigators concluded that Hughes had acted inappropriately, but took no disciplinary action. Crawford was later fired for alleged job irregularities, including 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claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging retaliation, however, because she had not originally made allegations of harassment against Hughes and only participated in an investigation that had nothing to do with the EEOC complaint, both a U.S. district court the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her suit.

In its November 2006 ruling, the appeals panel said Title VII’s retaliation protections did not apply to Crawford.

The Supreme Court’s 2006 decision on another case set a new standard which specifies that employers are liable for unlawful retaliation if their actions “interfere with an employee’s efforts” to ensure that he or she is not discriminated against in the workplace.” (See US Supreme Court Widens Workplace Retaliation Protections )