Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision covers telling a sexual harasser to stop

In a ruling that seems too obvious to have been the subject of debate (though it was), the Sixth Circuit held this week that Title VII's protection against being subject to discrimination "because [the employee] opposed . . . an unlawful employment practice,” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a), covers a worker who resists sexual harassment by a supervisor.

The case was brought by the EEOC against a company called New Breed Logistics. A New Breed supervisory employee harassed three female workers, then retaliated against them when they rejected his advances. In affirming a verdict against the company, the Sixth Circuit rejected New Breed's argument that the workers not were protected against retaliation for resisting unwanted sexual advances.

Surprisingly, New Breed was able to cite some case law for its reading of the law, which seems to defy common sense as well as the text of the statute, which speaks only of "oppos[ing]" an unlawful practice generally, not making a formal complaint or complaining to a particular person. As the Sixth Circuit pointed out in rejecting New Breed's argument, "It would be anomalous, and would undermine the fundamental purpose of the statute, if Title’s VII’s protections from retaliation were triggered only if the employee complained to some particular official designated by the employer."

You can read the decision here.


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