A federal appeals court has reinstated a retaliation charge filed by a former Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development worker who was allegedly forced to resign after she accused her supervisor of racist and sexist behavior.
Crystal Anderson had worked for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development from 2012-2016, where she was the only female on her crews and one of only two African-Americans, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Crystal A. Anderson v. Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development.
On Friday, March 18, 2016, Ms. Anderson, who normally had Fridays off, had a doctor’s appointment. Her supervisor told her she would need to come in to work overtime. When he was told of her appointment, the supervisor told her she would have to provide a doctor’s note when she returned on Monday.
After finding out another white male employee in a similar situation had not been required to bring in such a note, she complained about it to her supervisor’s supervisor.
Less than two months later, her supervisor instructed her and another worker to ride around after they had finished a project until he called them, before returning to the main project.
A few days later, she and the other worker were accused of stealing time from the state by riding around and not working, and was told she could either resign on her own or face termination and potential criminal charges.
She chose to resign, but filed suit against the department in U.S. District Court in Shreveport, charging it with a hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The court granted the department summary judgment dismissing the case, stating Ms. Anderson had not demonstrated that she had experienced harassment based on race or sex and that she had not pointed to any evidence suggesting she had engaged in a protected activity under Title VII.
Ms. Anderson appealed dismissal of the retaliation charge, which a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel reinstated. “The district court concluded that Anderson had failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation because she had not shown that she engaged in an activity protected by Title VII. We disagree,” the ruling said.
Ms. Anderson’s assertion that she had complained to her supervisor’s supervisor about the doctor’s note is “material to Anderson’s claim,” the ruling said. If Anderson had complained “then that would qualify as opposition to (the supervisor’s) unlawful discriminatory practices.”
Her complaint “directly contradicts what the Department’s preferred evidence suggests. Because this fact was in dispute, summary judgment this point was inappropriate.”
“The Department contends further the Anderson presented no evidence that she had suffered an adverse employment action because she resigned of her own volition. Anderson contradicts this however,” saying she was forced to resign.
“If the facts alleged there are true, Anderson’s forced resignation could amount to a constructive discharge…She has therefore presented evidence giving rise to a genuine dispute of material fact.”
The ruling said Ms. Anderson has also presented evidence that there was a “causal connection” between the complaint to the supervisor’s supervisor and her allegedly forced resignation.
“We have previously held that a ‘two-and-one-half month period’ was sufficient to establish causation, and Anderson’s allegation of a less-than-two month period ‘fits comfortably within that boundary,’” the ruling said, in citing an earlier case. “Thus, a dispute of material facts exists regarding this third element of Anderson’s prima facie case.”
The ruling also said Ms. Anderson has presented evidence that there is a factual dispute as to the validity of the Department’s reason for her termination.
“Although the Department provides a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for pressuring Anderson into resigning Anderson argues that the reason is pretextual. There is a real dispute of material fact on this point.”
“The department was not entitled to summary judgment in this case,” the ruling said, in reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Patricia Gilley, Ms. Anderson’s Shreveport-based attorney, said in a statement, “I have no idea why it has taken so long to reach a point where we might actually be able to settle (this case) amicably. The State of Louisiana was incompetent from its first filings.
“The federal district court judge did a very poor job of analyzing the motion for summary judgment filed by the State (Louisiana). I used the same argument at the district level that the Fifth Circuit used in reversing the lower court’s ruling. Go figure.”
An attorney for the state’s attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Credit: Source link