Are Employees Protected From Retaliation When They Complain About Pornography In The Workplace?
Having fought for the rights of sexual harassment victims for almost twenty years, our Alachua County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys have learned that employers frequently fail to take appropriate corrective action to prevent the viewing of pornography in the workplace. Employers often refuse to take remedial action because they mistakenly believe that the viewing of pornography by employees at work, without more, does not constitute a form of sexual harassment prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Taking this erroneous position to its logical extreme, employers further maintain that employees are not protected from retaliation by the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII when they make an internal complaint about pornography in the workplace because the conduct complained about is not sexual harassment. The recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Sanchez v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, No. 16-6983 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 26, 2018) demonstrates that employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about the presence of pornography in the workplace. Read on to learn more about whether employees are protected from retaliation and whether the complaining and viewing of porn can constitute harassment.
Employee Complains About Pornography At Work
In that case, Lynn Sanchez (Sanchez) brought a retaliation claim against her former employers, the Catholic Bishop of Chicago and the Archdiocese of Chicago (collectively Defendants), pursuant to Title VII. Sanchez claimed that the Defendants violated Title VII by terminating her employment because she complained about another worker’s viewing of pornography on an office computer.
Sanchez worked as a parish assistant for the Defendants. Sanchez began doing volunteer work for the Defendants in 1998. In January 2014, Sanchez was hired to work full-time as a parish assistant at the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph parishes. The Defendants contracted with a company called MayDay Solutions to provide information technology (IT) services at the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph parishes. One of MayDay’s employees, a man named Castaldo, frequently worked onsite at the Immaculate Conception.
A few months after she was hired, Sanchez walked into the computer room, found Castaldo sitting at his desk facing a computer, and viewing what she described as “nude women in motion.” Sanchez did not report the incident. Approximately two weeks later, Sanchez walked into the computer room, found Castaldo sitting at his desk facing a computer, and viewing “what appeared to be a video of nude women on the screen.” This time Sanchez immediately reported the incident to the parish business manager. Eventually, Sanchez and the business manager met with Father Larry about the incident. Father Larry instructed the business manager to “handle this.”
The business manager arranged to meet with Castaldo and the owner of MayDay. The night before the scheduled meeting, Castaldo and the owner met alone in the computer room at the Immaculate Conception with the door closed. Later that week, the business manager told Sanchez that the owner had provided him with a log showing that no porn sites had been viewed on the computer and the owner had told him that “no one could have gotten through the firewall to pornographic sites.” Although Sanchez argued that a third-party should have conducted an investigation of the computer because MayDay built the network and could do what they wanted with the computer, the business manager told Sanchez that the investigation was over.
During the next several months, Sanchez continued to complain to the business manager about the lack of a “proper investigation.” On a Friday in early November, Sanchez told the business manager in his office that the lack of a proper investigation “wasn’t right” and the problem was being “swept under the carpet.” In response, the business manager told Sanchez that she was on a “witch hunt” and that she “needed to let it go.” At trial, the business manager testified that Sanchez was “in a rage” during this conversation. According to the business manager, Sanchez was “yelling and screaming . . . saying the F word at least 20 times” and “spit was flying out of her mouth.” The business manager further testified that when he tried to leave his office, Sanchez “grabbed” his shoulder. Sanchez testified that she never touched the business manager and did not swear or spit at him. She admitted to raising her voice during the conversation but said that the business manager raised his voice as well.
When Sanchez called the business manager the next day, the business manager told her that “if you can’t let this go, you can turn in your keys on Monday.” Sanchez told him that she had contacted a lawyer, and the business manager said, “I knew it.” The next day, Sanchez met with the business manager and Father Larry. At that meeting, the business manager told Sanchez that she was being terminated for unprofessional conduct and because she lacked the “skill set to handle what needs to be done.”
Employer Claims Pornography Is Not Sexual Harassment
Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Sanchez and found that the Defendants fired her in retaliation for complaining about the presence of pornography in the workplace. In arguing that the trial court was required to vacate the jury’s decision and enter judgment entered in their favor, the Defendants maintained that the trial court should never have submitted the case to the jury because Title VII does not protect Sanchez from retaliation for complaining about the viewing of pornography in the workplace. More specifically, the Defendants argued that Title VII does not protect Sanchez from retaliation unless she proved that Castaldo watched the pornography with the intention of exposing her to the pornography because she is a woman. Without such evidence, according to the Defendants, Sanchez was merely complaining about conduct that she found “personally objectionable” and “disgusting,” but was not complaining about conduct that constituted sexual harassment.
Employee Protected from Retaliation as Porn Constitutes Harassment
The trial court rejected the Defendants argument and upheld the jury verdict in favor of Sanchez on her retaliation claim. The trial court explained that being exposed to pornography in the workplace is the type of behavior that could constitute sexual harassment. In fact, the trial court observed, courts have determined that the presence of pornography in the workplace can be used to establish a sexual harassment claim. Thus, the “presence of pornography in the workplace,” the trial court concluded, was a form of sexual harassment prohibited by Title VII. Consequently, because Sanchez complained about conduct prohibited by Title VIII, she was protected from retaliation under Title VII for having complained about the presence of pornography in the workplace.
Free Consultation With Gainesville Retaliation Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have extensive experience representing victims of employment retaliation. If you have been the victim of retaliation or have questions about your protection from retaliation for complaining about the presence of pornography in the workplace, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Alachua County, Florida retaliation attorneys. Our employee rights law firm takes retaliation cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.