By Mark Kobata
Jun. 26, 2015
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought sexual harassment and retaliation for opposing sexual harassment claims against New Breed Logistics on behalf of four former New Breed employees.
A jury returned a verdict of $1.5 million against New Breed and the alleged harasser. New Breed appealed, arguing that three of the plaintiffs had not engaged in protected activity sufficient to support a retaliation claim.
New Breed specifically argued that the three employees did not complain about harassment. Instead, they merely told the alleged harasser, their supervisor, to stop his harassing behavior. New Breed argued that simply asking the harasser to stop his behavior did not qualify as protected activity because it does not amount to “opposition” to unlawful behavior under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New Breed took the position that employees need to actually complain to someone, rather than simply ask the harasser to stop, to be engaged in protected activity.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this argument, holding that telling a supervisor to stop his or her alleged harassing behavior qualified as “opposition” to unlawful activity under Title VII. Thus, according to the 6th Circuit, an employer can be liable for retaliation against an employee even where the only thing an employee does to “oppose” harassment is to tell the person doing the harassing to stop. EEOC v. New Breed Logistics, 2015 BL 114197, 6th Cir., No. 13-6250 (April 22, 2015)
IMPACT:Employers can be guilty of retaliation even where the only person aware of the protected activity is the harasser. Since employers should not expect harassers to report complaints about their alleged harassment, this makes it crucial that employees be well-educated in how and when to report harassment.
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