Title VII Tangible Action Sexual Harassment Claim Sufficiently Alleged, Court Holds

In Maryam v. LSG Sky Chefs, No. 1:23-cv-914-SDG, 2024 WL 1195535 (N.D.Ga. March 20, 2024), the court held that plaintiff pled sufficient facts to support a sex discrimination claim, based on a tangible employment action harassment theory, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

Sexual harassment in the workplace can alter the “terms and conditions of employment” if the employee’s refusal to submit to a supervisor’s sexual demands results in a tangible employment action being taken against her. Such actions include, among other things, firing an employee. Under this tangible employment action theory, an employer is liable if it, even unknowingly, “permits a supervisor to take a tangible employment action against an employee because she refused to give in to his sexual overtures.”

In her EEOC charge and form complaint, Plaintiff argues that her supervisor sexually harassed her. She alleges that her supervisor consistently flirted with her and made her uncomfortable with his statements. Plaintiff further alleges that her supervisor isolated her from others to speak to her and encouraged her to enter into a relationship with him. Viewing the facts alleged in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, it is certainly plausible that but for Plaintiff’s sex, Plaintiff “would not have been the object of harassment.” Liberally construing the complaint and its exhibits due to Plaintiff’s status as a pro se litigant, Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that her supervisor—whose sexual advances Plaintiff refused—fired her for violating company policy when she had not. While Defendant provided Plaintiff with a disciplinary notice asserting that she was fired for discarding food products without authorization, the Court must accept as true at this stage Plaintiff’s assertion that she did not violate company policy. Plaintiff insists throughout her complaint and EEOC charge that she “was given the ok to discard the products” and that the “only food products [she] discarded were those that were spoiled foods, per the employee handbook.” Plaintiff’s focus on her alleged violations of company policy demonstrates that there was another plausible reason for her termination: her refusal of her supervisor’s sexual advances. At this stage, the Court agrees with the R&R’s conclusion that Plaintiff pled sufficient facts to state a claim for tangible employment action harassment based on sex.

Finally, Defendant objects that Plaintiff failed to allege any facts showing that her continued employment was “conditioned upon” her submitting to her supervisor’s sexual demands. Tangible employment action harassment, however, involves acceptance or rejection of either “an express or implied condition to the receipt of a job benefit” to create liability. In other words, “a causal link between the tangible employment action and the sexual harassment” must exist. This causal link may involve a genuine issue of fact when there is “temporal proximity between the harassment and a tangible employment action.”

In her complaint and EEOC charge, Plaintiff contends that her supervisor constantly made sexual advances towards her to the point that he even suggested she enter into a relationship with him. Plaintiff further contends that she informed him his conduct was unwelcome and that she was “not interested.” The Court reads the complaint and exhibits as Plaintiff alleging that, soon after she rejected her supervisor’s sexual advances, he fired her. More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that—within the span of two months—she was hired, subjected to constant sexual harassment, and then fired after rejecting her supervisor’s advances.

[Citations omitted.]

The court rejected defendant’s reliance on what it considered distinguishable cases, noting that in this case, unlike in those cited, “[p]laintiff was fired from her job, allegedly after rejecting her supervisor’s advances” and that “[d]ue to the short timeline in which these events occurred, Plaintiff’s allegations of her supervisor’s sexual advances, and her insistence that she did not violate company policy, undersigned cannot find that Plaintiff’s allegations of sexual harassment are subject to dismissal at this stage.”

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