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Single Remark Is No Reasonable Basis for Sexual Harassment; Transfer Is Not Retaliation

  • July 1, 2001

Finding "no one could reasonably believe that the incident" constituted sexual harassment, the U. S. Supreme Court rejected a claim by a school district human resources administrator that her complaints about a sexually offensive remark triggered a retaliatory transfer to another position. The HR administrator failed to show a causal connection between the charges and her involuntary transfer to another job with the same pay and benefits but lacking promotion potential, the Supreme Court said.

The offending remark was made in the context of a meeting with several supervisors to review job applications. After filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state fair employment practices agency, the employee filed a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She claimed her subsequent transfer was in retaliation for filing the charges and the lawsuit.

Contrary to the federal appeals court, the Supreme Court found no causal connection between the administrator's filing of the charges and the job transfer, and therefore no unlawful retaliation. Although filing the charges and the lawsuit was protected activity, the Court found the HR administrator failed to show the necessary connection between the activity and the transfer to support a claim of retaliation.

In attempting to show a causal connection, the administrator relied upon the proximity between the filing of the lawsuit and a statement made by her supervisor about the transfer. However, the Court found the fact that the supervisor transferred her soon after learning about the lawsuit was "immaterial" because the supervisor had been considering the transfer already. "Employers need not suspend previously planned transfers upon discovering that a Title VII suit has been filed, and their proceeding along lines previously contemplated, though not yet definitively determined, is no evidence whatever of causality," the Court said. [Clark County School Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. ___ (2001).]

©2001 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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