This is a case of first impression in this circuit, which includes Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky. The question before the Court was whether aggrieved employees’ complaints to their harassing supervisor constituted protected activity under Title VII. The court said “yes,” finding that merely telling the boss – also the harasser – to stop behaving badly qualifies for Title VII protection.
Notably, the court applied its holding to all three female plaintiffs – one of whom was a temporary worker hired through a staffing agency and the other two who were company employees. The court found all three plaintiffs engaged in protected activity under Title VII when they told their supervisor to stop sexually harassing them.
At trial, the evidence demonstrated that warehouse supervisor, James Calhoun, repeatedly made suggestive sexual comments and engaged in inappropriate physical contact with the plaintiffs. All three plaintiffs told Calhoun to stop. Shortly thereafter, they were terminated. New Breed argued that Plaintiffs must do more than complain to the offending supervisor to qualify for Title VII protection. The court disagreed, concluding that “a demand that a supervisor cease his/her harassing conduct constitutes protected activity covered by Title VII.” The court further noted that Calhoun’s retaliatory animus influenced the termination decisions, even though he was not the ultimate decision maker on the terminations.
Off-color jokes and sexually-charged comments are often commonplace in casual work environments such as warehouses, loading docks, and distribution centers. Under the New Breed case, a plaintiff must do no more than say “stop” to fall within the protected scope of Title VII. This case is an important reminder for employers to be wary of what happens in your warehouses . . . employ sound policies, practices and training programs to deter inappropriate conduct in the workplace.