Wednesday, February 13, 2019

I heard the 4th Circuit recognized a harassment claim based on rumors, pass it on.

[T]he central question presented is whether a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain promotion can ever give rise to her employer’s liability under Title VII for discrimination “because of sex.”
Welcome to Parker v. Remo Consulting from the 4th Circuit. The plaintiff alleged that the highest-ranking manager at her warehouse facility participated in the gossip, asking the man in the rumor, "hey, you sure your wife ain’t divorcing you because you’re f--king [the plaintiff]?" The manager allegedly went on to blame the plaintiff for "bringing the situation to the workplace" and told her that he would no longer recommend her for promotions.

The district court dismissed the claim, drawing a distinction between the plaintiff's sex (a protected characteristic under Title VII) and her conduct (generally not protected*). The Fourth Circuit reversed, pointing to the sex stereotype that "women, not men, use sex to achieve success." Additionally:
The complaint not only invokes by inference this sex stereotype, it also explicitly alleges that males in the RCSI workplace started and circulated the false rumor about Parker; that, despite Parker and Pickett’s shared tardiness, Parker as a female, not Pickett as a male, was excluded from the all-staff meeting discussing the rumor; that Parker was instructed to have no contact with Jennings, her male antagonist, while Jennings was not removed from Parker’s workplace, allowing him to jeer and mock her; that only Parker, who complained about the rumor, but not Jennings, who also complained of harassment, was sanctioned; and that Parker as the female member of the rumored sexual relationship was sanctioned, but Pickett as the male member was not. 
The Court concluded that the plaintiff had sufficiently pleaded a Title VII hostile work environment claim.

Now seems like a good time to share Ross Runkel's Case of the Week video series too. Here's his video on this case (find more at

* Notable exception for sex stereotyping and protected activity (participation and opposition in good faith efforts to address discrimination).

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