Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville

While Congress and the President appear posed to expand employee rights, the Supreme Court recently expanded employees` ability to allege retaliation in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee.

In Crawford, an employer conducted employee interviews as part of an investigation into alleged rumors that its employee relations director was sexually harassing other employees. During one of these interviews, an employee, Vicky Crawford, described several instances of the employee relations director`s sexually harassing behavior. After completing its investigation, the employer did not terminate the employee relations director. The employer did, however, terminate Ms. Crawford on the stated basis of embezzlement.

Ms. Crawford then filed a claim for retaliation under Title VII against the employer claiming she was fired because of the answers she gave during the investigation interview regarding the employee relations directors misconduct. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Ms. Crawford`s claim on the basis that she did not overtly oppose discriminatory behavior — a requirement needed to assert a retaliation claim under Title VII. Instead, Ms. Crawford merely participated in an investigation regarding the alleged misconduct of the employee relations director.

The Supreme Court, however, disagreed. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that Ms. Crawford`s description of the employee relations director`s behavior during her interview met the required opposition needed to assert a retaliation claim.

Crawford demonstrates that an employee may oppose discriminatory conduct — thus giving rise to a potential retaliation claim — by merely responding to an employer`s questions during an internal investigation. Employers should be mindful that even though an employee is not the complaining party, it is still possible to retaliate against that employee. As such, employers must be prepared to set forth a legitimate, nondiscriminatory business reason for an employee`s termination that demonstrates the employee`s termination was not related in anyway to the complaints raised by that employee during an internal investigation.