Complaints to a Harassing Supervisor are a Protected Activity Under Federal Law

In a potentially significant case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the prior decision in EEOC v. New Breed Logistics that in a retaliation claim, requests made to a supervisor that he stop sexually harassing the complainant are considered protected activities under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This is the case even if no other supervisors ever learn the complaints were made.

The opinion from the court recognized that other courts have in the past determined complaints solely to harassing managers do not qualify as protected activities, but decided a change of precedent was necessary. One section of the opinion read as follows:

“If the other elements of a prima facie case are present, a harassment claim only becomes a retaliation claim if, after the harassee opposes the harassment, the harasser initiates adverse action against the victim. Thus, giving retaliation victims protection where they complain to the harasser will not morph all harassment claims into a retaliation claim, absent some materially adverse action.”

Essentially, this means circumstances in which the victim of harassment tried to complain to the harassing superior and was then punished are eligible to be classified as retaliation claims.

Establishing a sound process

Employers should still do everything they can to make sure their employees understand complaint procedures and can more effectively raise internal issues to management and HR departments, especially when harassment is involved. Employers should also train all supervisors and managers to handle complaints properly and report them to the appropriate authorities.

For further guidance on employer harassment issues, consult the skilled Dallas whistleblower lawyers and Attorney Steve Kardell at Whistleblower Law for Managers.