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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

What Must Employees Show To Be Protected From Retaliation When Complaining Of Sexual Harassment Against A Co-Worker?

Retaliation claim is shown on the photo using the text

Having represented workplace retaliation victims for more than two decades, our Citrus County, Florida workplace retaliation attorneys know that a common employment law myth is that employees are only protected from retaliation when they complain about sexual harassment towards them in the workplace. Because of this employment law myth, our Inverness, Florida workplace retaliation lawyers have learned, many employees are unaware they have been subjected to unlawful retaliation after reporting sexual harassment towards a co-worker. In this article our Citrus County, Florida workplace retaliation attorneys explain how the decision in Johnson v. Salt Lake City School District,  Case No. 19-cv-00743 (D. Utah Oct. 20, 2021) demonstrates that federal employment discrimination law protects employees from retaliation when they complain of sexual harassment towards a co-worker in the workplace.

Protection For Opposing Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes sexual harassment an unlawful discriminatory employment practice. In order to eliminate and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, Title VII contains an anti-retaliation provision. Under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision, employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about sexual harassment towards themselves in the workplace. Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision also protects employees who complain about sexual harassment towards a co-worker in the workplace. To secure protection from retaliation under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision, an employee complaining of sexual harassment towards a co-worker only has to show that he or she had a reasonable and good-faith belief that the co-worker had been or was being subjected to unlawful sexual harassment. To satisfy the reasonable and good-faith test, the complaining employee does not have to establish that the underlying sexual harassment complained of in fact violated Title VII.

Workplace Retaliation Lawsuit

In Johnson, a man named Johnson brought a retaliation lawsuit against his former employer, Salt Lake City School District (SLCSD), pursuant to Title VII. Johnson claims that SLCSD retaliated against him in violation of Title VII by refusing to renew his contract at the end of the school year and thereby terminating his employment because he complained about sexually harassing behavior towards a co-worker.
In December 2015, Johnson began working for SLCSD as a groundskeeper. In January 2018, Johnson and a woman named Olsen, the only female groundskeeper, were clocking out when a supervisor named Barnett walked by and told Olsen that he watched her all day on the security cameras and that he liked watching her run around. Olsen told Johnson that he she found Barnett’s comment creepy. On February 5, 2018, Barnett held a grounds crew meeting where he told the crew he was watching them on the security cameras. This comment appeared to upset Olsen, who began crying after the meeting and against expressed discomfort with Barnett watching her.

Fired After Reporting Sexual Harassment

When Olsen told Johnson that she felt uncomfortable at work knowing that Barnett was using the security cameras to watch her, Johnson told Olsen to speak with Human Resources. But concerned that Olsen feared going to Human Resources herself, Johnson called a Human Resources Specialist named O’Connor on February 6, 2018. During the call, Johnson explained the nature of his concerns with Barnett and requested a meeting with O’Connor.
On March 8, 2018, Johnson met with O’Connor. During the meeting, Johnson raised his concerns about Barnett’s allegedly inappropriate behavior towards Olsen. Following Johnson’s meeting with O’Connor, Johnson’s supervisor questioned grounds crew members about who complained to Human Resources. On April 3, 2018, Johnson’s supervisor subjected him to written disciplinary action for alleged insubordination and loafing. On April 16, 2018, SLCSD notified Johnson that his contract would be not renewed at the end of the school year. Johnson’s contract ended on June 30, 2018.

Evidence Of Retaliatory Discharge

SLCSD filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Johnson’s retaliatory discharge claim. In moving for dismissal of the case, SLCSD argued that Title VII did not protect Johnson from retaliation because he only reported one sexualized comment directed at another employee in his presence and, thus, “could not have reasonably believed that Barnett’s conduct violated Title VII.” The trial court denied SLCSD’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Johnson was entitled to bring his retaliation discharge claim before a jury for resolution.

In denying SLCSD’s motion for dismissal, the trial court explained that “courts have widely recognized that Title VII prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers even if the underlying conduct did not amount to a Title VII violation.” “Rather,” the trial court observed, “the standard is whether an [employee] had a reasonable, good-faith belief that the complained of activity violated Title VII.”

In applying this standard, the trial court found that Johnson had a reasonable and good-faith belief that the complained of conduct constituted unlawful sexual harassment. The trial court explained that although one sexualized “comment may not rise to the level of sexual harassment under Title VII,” Barrett’s “comment was clearly unwelcome” and Johnson knew the “comment interfered with Olsen’s working environment.” Thus, the trial court concluded that “a jury could rationally find Johnson’s belief that he reported legally prohibited sexual harassment objectively reasonable.” Therefore, Johnson was protected from retaliation by Title VII for complaining of sexual harassment towards his co-worker.

Workplace Retaliation Attorneys In Inverness, FL

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our workplace retaliation lawyers in Citrus County, Florida have litigated retaliation cases in Florida courts for more than twenty years. If you have been subjected to retaliation for complaining of sexual harassment in the workplace or have questions about your protection from retaliation for complaining of sexual harassment in the workplace, please contact our office for a free consultation with our workplace retaliation attorneys in Inverness, Florida. Our labor law attorneys take workplace 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.

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