Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Claim Survives Summary Judgment; Termination Followed Rebuff of Alleged Sexual Advances

In Culley v. West Bolivar Consolidated School District et al, 2023 WL 5007871 (N.D.Miss. August 4, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s quid pro quo sexual harassment claim.

The court summarized and applied the law as follows:

Sex discrimination and sexual harassment in public employment violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The circuits addressing the issue have allowed plaintiffs suing their public employers for sexual harassment and sex discrimination to assert claims under both Title VII and section 1983. Section 1983 and Title VII are parallel causes of action and so the inquiry into intentional discrimination is essentially the same for individual actions brought under sections 1981 and 1983, and Title VII. Title VII prohibits sexual harassment as a form of employment discrimination. There are two types of sexual harassment under Title VII: quid-pro-quo and hostile-environment harassment. To establish a claim of quid-pro-quo sexual harassment, an employee must show that the acceptance or rejection of a supervisor’s alleged sexual harassment resulted in a tangible employment action. To establish a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must show that (1) she belongs to a protected class; (2) she was subjected to harassment; (3) the harassment was based on sex; (4) the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment; and (5) the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take remedial action.

On the summary judgment record, a reasonable juror could determine that Dr. Culley has satisfied the elements of a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim as to Defendant Griffin. She has come forward with evidence that Defendant Griffin made inappropriate sexual advances and engineered her termination after she rebuffed him. Whether Defendant Griffin was a “supervisor” of Dr. Culley depends on whether he had authority to take tangible employment action against her. Even if Defendant Griffin did not have actual authority to take tangible employment action against her, he may be liable under a cat’s paw theory, under which a plaintiff must show that the person with retaliatory or discriminatory animus used the decisionmaker to bring about the intended action. The claim of quid pro quo sexual harassment as to Defendant Griffin may proceed to trial.

[Cleaned up.]

It should be noted that the court did dismiss other claims asserted by plaintiff, including “quid pro quo” sexual harassment against other individual defendants, as well as hostile work environment.

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