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Fourth Circuit Ruling Makes Retaliation Claims Harder to Dismiss

Reya C. Boyer-Liberto, a cocktail waitress, recently filed a lawsuit against the Maryland hotel she worked at, claiming she was fired after complaining about people using racial slurs against her. The defendant, the Fontainebleau Corporation, originally won the case by summary judgment, but the Fourth Circuit Court reviewed the case and found that should instead go in front of a jury. The judges on the court voted 12-3 to restore the hostile work environment claim and 14-1 for the retaliation claim.

Boyer-Liberto, who is African-American, claims are that within a 24-hour period in 2010, she was called a racial slur several times and threatened to be fired by the white manager of her restaurant. The employer attempted to argue that isolated incidents do not make for a hostile work environment, but the Fourth Circuit Court disagreed.

Impact on future whistleblower cases

Legal experts believe the ruling in this case will make it more difficult for employers to successfully bid for summary judgment, particularly in retaliation and hostile work environment cases in the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit Court. The court handles appeals from trial courts in South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland.

As a result, it’s reasonable to believe more retaliation and harassment cases will go to trial or settle, as employers and their lawyers will believe they don’t have a good chance at receiving a summary judgment. All of this is good news for people who have claims for retaliation or hostile work environment, as more trials and settlements mean a greater likelihood for recovering damages.

For more information on these complex issues, contact Steve Kardell at Whistleblower Law for Managers.

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