Courts Approve Retaliatory Harassment Claim

By James Hatch

Mar. 23, 2006

Anna Jensen, a letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office, complained to her manager that a supervisor commented to her, “I want to make love to you all day long.” The supervisor was fired after investigation of the incident.

    Following that complaint, Jensen was subjected to insults by a co-worker who had sided with the supervisor. Additionally, obscenities were directed at her, co-workers made loud noises to scare her, other employees drove U-Carts directly at her at high speeds, and her car was vandalized in the post office parking lot. Although Jensen repeatedly complained to her manager about her co-workers’ behavior, the harassment continued for 19 months. It was only after Jensen complained to a new supervisor, and her co-workers were confronted, did the harassing behavior stop.

    Jensen filed suit for sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. She claimed that her co-workers’ harassment was an adverse employment action in violation of Title VII and in retaliation for her initial complaint.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia agreed. In agreement with seven other circuit courts of appeals, the 3rd Circuit said that a retaliation claim could be predicated upon a hostile work environment. It reasoned that “retaliatory conduct other than discharge or refusal to hire violates Title VII when it alters the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, deprives him or her of employment opportunities or adversely affects his or her status as an employee.” Jensen v. Potter, No. 04-4078 (3d Cir. January 31, 2006).

    Impact: Employers are advised to review and update their anti-harassment policy to ensure that retaliatory acts are grounds for termination; conduct periodic employee and management training; and, where specific complaints are lodged, be alert to retaliatory harassment.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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