Federal Appeals Court Upholds $1.5 Million Jury Verdict in Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A federal appeals court has upheld a jury verdict of over $1.5 million in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) lawsuit against a High Point, N.C.-based logistics services provider for sexual harassment and retaliation.  The EEOC had charged the company with subjecting three temporary female employees to sexual harassment and retaliation against them for complaining, as well as against a male employee who supported the women's claims.

According to the EEOC's suit, New Breed Logistics unlawfully discriminated against three female workers in its Memphis warehouse who were sexually harassed by a New Breed supervisor, and retaliated against them after they objected to his sexual advances. The EEOC also charged that a New Breed supervisor retaliated against a male employee who verbally opposed the supervisor's sexual harassment and supported the women's complaints.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed the lawsuit, Civil Action No. 2:10-cv-02696-STA-tmp, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis on Sept. 23, 2010, after the agency first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement out of court. On May 9, 2013, a federal jury in Memphis found in favor of the EEOC, and awarded the discrimination victims $1,513,094.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury finding. The opinion from the Sixth Circuit, on an issue of first impression, clarified the scope of protected activity under the opposition clause of Title VII's retaliation provision. The Court of Appeals held:

  • The opposition clause of Title VII has an "expansive definition" and courts should give "great deference" to the EEOC's interpretation of opposing conduct.
  • Applying these standards, "a demand that a supervisor cease his/her harassing conduct constitutes protected activity by Title VII."
  • "If an employee demands that his/her supervisor stop engaging in this unlawful practice - i.e., resists or confronts the supervisor's unlawful harassment - the opposition clause's broad language confers protection to this conduct."

New Breed Logistics, a logistics services provider that helps companies design and operate supply chains, warehousing and distribution, operates five Memphis warehouses. New Breed is a national company, headquartered in High Point, N.C. The company also has warehouses in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles and Kearny, N.J.

Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC's investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). Additionally, preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is another of the priorities identified by the SEP.

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