Worker Claims She Was Unlawfully Fired For Rejecting Supervisor’s Sexual Advances
Through representing sexual harassment victims for more than two decades, our Marion County sexual harassment lawyers know that many sexual harassment victims endure quid pro quo sexual harassment. In some circumstances, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor conditions a victim’s receipt of job benefits on submission to sexual advances. In other circumstances, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor punishes a victim for rejecting sexual advances. In this article, our Marion County sexual harassment lawyers explain how the decision in Wallace v. Performance Contractors, Inc.,2023 WL 21856 (5th Cir. Jan. 3, 2023) is illustrative of the protection afforded by federal employment discrimination law to sexual harassment victims who are subjected to quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Protection From Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex. In construing Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, courts have uniformly ruled that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination forbidden by Title VII. In order to violate Title VII, sexual harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile work environment. Stated another way, when the victim is subjected to severe or pervasive sexual harassment, Title VII is violated.
As observed by the court in EEOC v. Boh Bros. Const. Co., LLC,731 F.3d 444 (5th Cir. 2013), “there are two types of sexual harassment under Title VII: quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment.” In Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993), the Supreme Court characterized quid pro quo sexual harassment as “appalling” and “especially egregious.” Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when the acceptance or rejection of a supervisor’s sexual advances results in a tangible employment action to the victim. A “tangible employment action” is an employment decision that inflicts direct economic harm against the victim, such as hiring, firing, demoting, or failing to promote. When a supervisor’s sexual harassment culminates in the taking of a tangible employment action against the victim, the employer is automatically liable for the sexual harassment. In other words, quid quo pro quo sexual harassment constitutes severe sexual harassment that inherently alters the conditions of the victim’s employment.
In order to establish that a supervisor’s sexual harassment culminated in a tangible employment action and trigger automatic employer liable, a victim must demonstrate that the supervisor played a role in the tangible employment action. In other words, as explained by the court in Casiano v. AT & T Corp., 213 F.3d 278 (5th Cir. 2000), there must be a “nexus” or causal connection between the supervisor’s harassment and the tangible employment action. The requisite “nexus” or causal connection between the supervisor’s harassment and the tangible employment action exists when the supervisor was involved in the decision to subject the victim to the tangible employment action. For example, when the harassing supervisor makes the decision to terminate the victim or recommends the victim’s termination, the harassing supervisor was involved in the decision to subject the victim to the tangle employment action and the requisite “nexus” or causal connection between the supervisor’s harassment and the tangible employment action is established.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
In Wallace, a woman named Wallace brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer, Performance Contractors, Inc. (Performance), pursuant to Title VII. Wallace claims that she was subjected to quid pro quo sexual harassment in violation of Title VII.
Performance is a construction company. In April 2017, Wallace began working for Performance as a helper. In this position, Wallace was supervised by a superintendent, a man named Terro. Terro, in turn, was supervised by an area manager, a man named Gautreau.
Terro, while both he and Wallace were at work, allegedly texted Wallace a picture of his genitals and asked her to send back a picture of her breasts. Wallace says that she was “upset,” “distraught,” and “in shock.” Wallace says that Terro later addressed the picture in question and did not deny sending it, but instead said that it took “guts to send that” picture to her. On several other occasions, Wallace alleges that Terro asked to “grab and squeeze” her breasts. Wallace says that she was too shocked to report all this to HR, but she did tell her husband. Wallace’s husband, who was also employed by Performance, then called and left messages with HR that were never returned.
Laprairie was one of Performance’s welders. During the same month that Terro allegedly sent the picture to Wallace, Laprairie allegedly approached Wallace from behind and asked her how old she was. When she responded, Laprairie allegedly replied that at that age, Wallace was in her “sexual prime.” When Wallace walked away and sat down, Laprairie again approached her from behind and began grabbing and messaging her shoulders.
All of these experiences, according to Wallace, caused her severe anxiety and depression. This led her to seek medical assistance. When Wallace missed work to go to a doctor’s appointment to treat her anxiety and depression, Performance suspended her. Wallace says she tried to call HR about her suspension, but was only able to leave a message, and no one ever called her back. Wallace later sent in a letter of resignation, which Performance says it never received. A few weeks later, Performance terminated Wallace’s employment.
Evidence Of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
The trial court dismissed Wallace’s quid pro quo sexual harassment claim. The trial court ruled that Wallace could not establish a nexus between Terro’s sexual harassment and her termination. In reaching this conclusion, the trial court myopically pointed to Gautreau’s testimony that he directed Terro to fire Wallace. Based on this evidence, the trial court concluded that Gautreau made the decision to fire Wallace. Because Gautreau made the decision to fire Wallace, the trial court reasoned, Wallace could not establish the requisite nexus between Terro’s sexual harassment and her termination. On appeal before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the trial court’s dismissal of Wallace’ quid pro quo sexual harassment claim was reversed, and Wallace’s quid pro quo sexual harassment claim was reinstated.
Unlike the reversed trial court, the Fifth Circuit based its decision on the totality of the evidence—not simply an isolated fact proffered by an area manager. Based on the totality of the evidence, the appellate court determined that “a reasonable jury could find that Terro suspended and later fired Wallace because of her rejection of his harassment.” In support of its conclusion, the court of appeals observed that one month after Terro allegedly sent Wallace a picture of his genitals, “Terro signed Wallace’s suspension notice, claiming it was because of her absences.” Although the trial court “credited Gautreau’s testimony that he directed Terro to fire Wallace,” the appellate court pointed out that “only Terro’s signature appears on the suspension notice.” Because only Terro’s signature appeared on the suspension notice, the Fifth Circuit ruled that there was conflicting evidence regarding who made the decision to fire Wallace and, thus, it was for a jury to decide whether Terro or Gautreau fired Wallace. If a jury believes that Terro was involved in the decision to fire Wallace, then there is evidence of a nexus between Terro’s alleged sexual harassment and Wallace’s termination.
Marion County Sexual Harassment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to representing sexual harassment victims. If you have experienced quid pro quo sexual harassment or have questions about your rights as a victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment, please contact our office for a free consultation with our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes sexual harassment 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.