Can a School District’s Policy to Allow Transgender Students to Access Bathrooms Consistent With Their Gender Identity Be a Basis for a Sexual Harassment Claim?

The Transgender Student

Paul is a 17-year-old junior high school student in Louisville, Kentucky whose sex was female at birth, but who, since at least the age of five, has had a lasting, persistent male gender identity. Because Paul’s birth-determined sex is different from his gender identity, Paul experienced relentless bullying in school due to others’ unwillingness to accept him as a boy, causing him significant emotional distress as a child. Paul became extreme anxious and had frequent suicidal thoughts because of the social rejection that he experienced.   With the support of his parents, however, Paul underwent psychological therapy, which included social gender transitioning counseling, as well as physical interventions such as hormone therapy, in order to transition and present himself as male. Paul began adopting hairstyles and clothing to suit his gender identity and using sex-segregated spaces that corresponded to his gender-identity rather than his birth-determined sex. By the time Paul reached high school, his peers, for the most part, perceived him as male, though some did not. Several of his peers expressed that Paul made them feel uncomfortable.   When Paul tried out for and earned a starting position on the school’s male baseball team, most of his teammates, though not all, were accepting. This predominant, even if incomplete, acceptance, helped alleviate the anxiety and depression that Paul had experienced for years.   Paul had come to the realization that being accepted by everyone was simply unrealistic.

The School Policy

Since a year before Paul began high school, his high school has adopted a policy that allows students to access the bathroom and locker room consistent with their gender identity, rather than compelling them to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their birthsex. The school’s policy does not require that the student manifest behaviors or characteristics of the gender with which the student identifies in order to access a particular bathroom or locker room, but simply leaves it up to the student as to which one to use.

The Student Distressed by the School Policy

Tristan is an 18-year-old male senior at Paul’s high school, and one of the students on the baseball team who is visibly uncomfortable around Paul.   Tristan’s parents, and the pastor at Tristan’s church, preach it is morally wrong for a person to take hormones to alter body chemistry, particularly for purposes of conforming to a gender identity different from one’s birthsex. Tristan does everything possible to avoid any bathroom or locker room encounters with Paul, including by reducing his water intake, eating less at lunch, and using sweaty gym clothes under his regular school clothes so that he does not have to disrobe in front of Paul.   Tristan’s performance, both academically and on the baseball team, has declined since Paul joined the baseball team.

Tristan’s parents are infuriated that Paul is allowed to use the male bathrooms at the high school, and believe the school’s policy is violating Tristan’s privacy, and subjecting Tristan to unnecessary and unacceptable levels of distress. Tristan’s parents complained to the principal, the school district superintendent, and other school officials about the school policy, about Paul, and the resulting distress to Tristan. The school officials responded that Tristan needed to get past his feelings of discomfort and accept or ignore Paul, and that their only alternative would be to implement a policy that would make Paul feel equally, if not more, uncomfortable, and subject Paul to distress that was much graver than that experienced by Tristan.

The Lawsuit

Tristan and his parents, among other cisgender high school students and their parents, brought a lawsuit against the school district and school officials alleging, among other claims, that the school district’s policy of allowing transgender students to access bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity constituted sexual harassment under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX provides: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under an education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”. The U.S. Supreme Court has found a private right of action for sexual harassment under Title IX.

A school district may be liable for sexual harassment if the district was deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment, of which they have actual knowledge, that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.  

Tristan and his parents seek emotional distress damages, and also seek an injunction to permanently eliminate the school’s policy and require that students access the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their birthsex.

The Current State of the Law

            Two recent similar federal lawsuits, one filed in Pennsylvania, and the other in Illinois, sought relief under Title IX based on a school district’s policy to allow transgender students to access bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the student’s gender identity rather than their birthsex. In the Pennsylvania case, Students and Parents for Privacy v. Sch. Dirs. of Twp. High Sch. Dist. 211, 377 F.Supp.3d 891 (N.D. Ill. 2019) , both the U.S. District Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied injunctive relief, and held that the Title IX claim was unlikely to succeed on the merits, reasoning that Title IX claims must be based on disparate treatment based on sex, while the School District’s policy was sex-neutral. Since the policy allows all students, both male and female, to use bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, the policy does not discriminate based on sex, and therefore does not offend Title IX.

In Doe v. Boyertown Area Sch. Dist., 897 F.3d 518 (3rd Cir. 2018) , the U.S. District Court in the Illinois case reached a different conclusion.   That court concluded that the students pled a plausible sexual harassment claim against the school district under Title IX, although it did not reach the ultimate merits of that claim.

These cases suggest it is still an open question whether students can successfully sue a school district for sexual harassment under Title IX based upon a bathroom and locker room policy that allows transgender students to access the facilities that align with their gender identity.   The Pennsylvania case also suggests that a transgender student might have a viable claim under Title IX for a school district’s bathroom and locker room policy that requires all students to use the facilities that align with their birthsex, irrespective of the student’s gender identity, which could put school districts in the impossible position of being vulnerable to lawsuits regardless of what bathroom and locker room policy they adopt.

Federal law not only protects you from workplace discrimination during pregnancy, but also from discrimination after pregnancy. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) of 1978 amended the Civil Rights Act to include discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Some federal courts have held that breastfeeding or pumping milk at work constitutes a “related medical condition” protected from discrimination.

In the recent case of Mercado v. Sugarhouse HSP Gaming, L.P.a federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that a casino employee adequately made out her hostile work environment claim based on discrimination for taking time at work to pump breast milk.

Three years after Rita Mercado started working as a table game dealer at the Sugarhouse Casino, she became pregnant with her first child. She requested reassignment to non-smoking areas of the casino, but was told that she had to start her shift at a smoking section while management attempted to find a new placement. A particular pit manager stated several times to Mercado that her requests for reassignment were “an inconvenience.” Upon return from maternity leave, she informed her colleagues that she would be breastfeeding her child and using the casino’s private lactation room known as the “Pump Room,” to express breast milk.

Mercado soon began to experience issues with both management and other staff members. When she asked one pit manager for permission to take a pump break, he asked how big Mercado’s breasts would get if someone refused to let her pump.”

Another pit manager stated that Mercado was “beautiful, if only [s]he could stop pumping.” Still another pit manager stated, “isn’t that boy done eating by now?” Others commented that she was pumping too much and that her son “should be on formula by now.” One time when Mercado was exiting the Pump Room, another dealer, Lauren Roche, commented, “is that all the milk you pumped? You look like you’re drying out.” She added, “I just want you to know you are jacking up everyone’s schedule.” Mercado reported everything to management, who investigated Roche’s comments. Roche was merely issued a written warning that was later scaled back to verbal feedback.

The incident that led Mercado to quit her job involved a security officer, Tequila Phillips, who physically approached Mercado and started yelling at her, refusing to give her the key to the Pump Room because Mercado was supposed to return the key every time, but never did. Mercado reported the incident to management, who merely stated that Ms. Phillips was “high strung.” The next day, Mercado called and resigned her position.

Mercado sued Sugarhouse Casino, Sugarhouse’s Director of Human Resources, and another employee in federal court claiming a hostile work environment and constructive termination in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The defendants attempted to move for summary judgment to get rid of the claims, but the federal court held that Mercado provided sufficient evidence of intentional discrimination because of her sex by attesting that she was subject to assorted discriminatory treatment regarding her pregnancy and subsequent need to pump breast milk that was severe or pervasive, and that led her to fell both unwelcome and unsafe.

Although Sugarhouse had an anti-harassment policy, there was ample indication that the policy was either ineffective or simply not followed, showing that Sugarhouse failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassing behavior.

In reaching its decision, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania relied on Hicks v. City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama issued by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on September 7, 2017, which held that

[t]he [Pregnancy Discrimination Act] would be rendered a nullity if women were protected during a pregnancy but then could be readily terminated for breastfeeding.”

In Hicks, a female police officer was discriminated against, because her request to be reassigned to a desk job after returning from maternity leave was rejected. She was trying to avoid using a restrictive ballistic vest all day that her doctor told her could cause breast infections leading to the inability to breastfeed.

If you believe you are experiencing or have experienced discrimination at your job because you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or experiencing any post-pregnancy medical conditions, you should contact an attorney who can advise you of your legal rights. We are here to listen to you and to discuss your options.



The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in O’Daniel v. Industrial Service Solutions, released on April 19, 2019, affirmed a lower federal court’s dismissal of a lawsuit that claimed harassment and discrimination based on her heterosexual orientation. The Fifth Circuit held that there were no protections for sexual orientation employment discrimination under the law.

Bonnie O’Daniel worked at Plant-N-Power Services under Cindy Huber, who became president when the company was involved in a merger with Industrial Service Solutions. Ted Simoneaux was the vice president. O’Daniel developed a fantastic relationship with Huber and Simoneaux, although she never personally met Huber, who worked in the Texas office. On April 22, 2016, O’Daniel made an incendiary Facebook post. O’Daniel referred to the post simply as “that of a man at Target wearing a dress and not[ing] his ability to use the women’s bathroom and/or dressing room with Mrs. O’Daniel’s young daughters.” The text of O’Daniel’s post stated: “So meet, ROBERTa! Shopping in the women’s department for a swimsuit at the BR Target. For all of you people that say you don’t care what bathroom it’s using, you’re full of shit!! Let this try to walk in the women’s bathroom while my daughters are in there!! #hellwillfreezeoverfirst.” The post included photos of the individual referred to in the post.

The post was shared with Simoneaux and Huber. Huber took personal offense to the post because she was a member of the LGBT community and felt the post wronged all members of the LGBT community, including herself. Huber told Simoneaux that she wanted O’Daniel fired, but Simoneaux convinced Huber not to, and instead required O’Daniel to take a sensitivity/diversity training course and advised her she could no longer recruit through social media. When O’Daniel failed to attend the course, Huber placed O’Daniel under her direct supervision and made rules that only applied to O’Daniel, such as modifying her schedule to conflict with her children’s schedules and putting her on a time clock. O’Daniel told Simoneaux that she felt she was being harassed and discriminated against because she was a heterosexual and advised she would be filing a formal complaint. A week later, Simoneaux told O’Daniel that the next week would be her last week. O’Daniel’s separation notice stated she was “fired due to unsatisfactory job performance.” However, when O’Daniel filed for unemployment benefits, she was denied due to employee misconduct. O’Daniel filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on December 20, 2016, and received her right to sue letter shortly afterward.

O’Daniel then filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging violations of multiple anti-discrimination laws, wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and various Louisiana statutes. The court dismissed her lawsuit, and she appealed.

The issue on appeal was whether Title VII, which outlaws employment discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” also encompassed sexual orientation as a protected class. Several organizations such as the EEOC and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation filed amicus curiae briefs, asserting that Title VII ought to encompass sexual orientation as a protected class.

The Fifth Circuit reasoned that while “sex” discrimination has been held to encompass discrimination based on sexual harassment or sexual stereotyping, the plain terms of Title VII does not cover “sexual orientation.” Acknowledging the evolution in other courts’ decisions interpreting Title VII to include sexual orientation, the Fifth Circuit decided to adopt the literal reading of the statute, which did not include sexual orientation as a protected class.


The concurring opinion pointed out that O’Daniel was not fired because she was heterosexual, but because of her Facebook post.

On April 22, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would resolve the split among the circuits as to whether sexual orientation is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, providing the first indication on how the U.S. Supreme Court’s new conservative majority will approach the rights of the LGBT community.

If you believe you have been or are being discriminated against at your job because of your sexual orientation, you should discuss your circumstances with an attorney who can advise you of your legal rights which, until the Supreme Court rules definitively, may be different depending on your location. Please let us know if we can help.



Inmediatamente después de graduarse de la escuela de leyes, Carl comenzó a trabajar como asistente del juez Jorge Martinez.  A Carl le encantaba su trabajo, el cual le permitía presenciar juicios civiles y criminales, hacer búsquedas legales, redactar opiniones legales para el juez, hacer recomendaciones legales, y conocer a otros jueces, asistentes legales, y abogados prominentes de la comunidad.  Después de varios meses de trabajar con el juez Martinez, él le presentó a su colega, la jueza Martha Stone, y Carl inmediatamente se sintió atraído hacia ella. Para sorpresa de Carl, la atracción fue mutua, y una noche después de consumir varias bebidas alcohólicas y pasar tiempo juntos en un evento de recaudación de fondos, Carl y la jueza Stone comenzaron una relación amorosa.  Al inicio, la relación fue extremadamente positiva: la atracción mutua era tanto física como intellectual. Los dos hablaban de casos y de asuntos legales, y la jueza Stone estaba impresionada con las capacidades de Carl. Pero al cabo de varios meses, el romance se volvió amargo, pues la jueza Stone creía que Carl estaba saliendo con otra mujer en secreto, lo cual provocó que la parte oscura de la jueza saliera a flote. La jueza Stone no solo terminó con la relación amorosa en forma abrupta, si no que se encargó de hacerle la vida imposible a Carl.  

El acoso comienza: contactos no deseados y fotos en el baño

En varias ocasiones cuando la jueza Stone conversaba con el juez Martinez y Carl estaba cerca, ella le preguntaba al juez Martinez como él podía manejar sus casos sin asistentes competentes. Incluso le mencionó varias veces que ella conocía a por lo menos una docena de abogados recién graduados de la escuela de leyes que estaban mucho más capacitados que Carl para asistirlo.  En varias ocasiones después de conversar con el juez Martinez, la jueza Stone salió de la oficina del Juez Martinez, entró a la oficina de Carl, y se le acercó en una forma muy insinuante, la cual Carl consideró que era inapropiada y que tenía la única intención de intimidarlo.  Un día, afuera del baño de hombres, Carl encontró una foto de él que había sido tomado por la jueza Stone. Debajo de la foto había un subtítulo que decía

Los que aquí laboramos solo buscamos la verdad. Carl: no queremos tus manos pequeñas en ningún lugar cerca de nuestros calzones.”

Desde aquel día, todos los jueces y el personal de la corte rechazaron a Carl.  Un día, cuando el juez Martinez no estaba en su oficina, la jueza Stone fue a la oficina de Carl y le rogó que volviera con ella, con la condición de que él le prometiera serle fiel. Carl le dijo en forma cortés que él ya no deseaba una relación con ella, y que no se sentía cómodo retomándola en vista de los eventos más recientes.  La jueza Stone salió de prisa de la oficina sin decir una palabra.  Después de eso, el juez Martinez comenzó a tratar a Carl de forma despectiva, como nunca antes, encontrando faltas en todos los proyectos de investigación y escritos de Carl, y ridiculizando cada una de sus recomendaciones legales.  El trabajo soñado de Carl era ahora una pesadilla.  

Carl es despedido después de presentar una queja a Recursos Humanos

Carl presentó, a regañadientes, una queja sobre la jueza Stone al departamento de Recursos Humanos. El gerente de Recusos Humanos escuchó su queja de una forma cortés, pero le dijo que la jueza Stone también había presentado una queja en Recursos Humanos en contra de él, alegando que Carl estaba acosándola sexualmente.  El gerente le preguntó que si de verdad él esperaba que su historia fuera creíble, y le sugirió que renunciara voluntariamente.  Carl salió de la oficina de Recursos Humanos sorprendido y desilusionado, pero juró que pelearía su caso.  ¿Cómo podría Carl ser un abogado efectivo para otros en el futuro si no podía hacer valer sus propios derechos?  Carl se rehusó a renunicar y fue despedido a la brevedad.  Carl contrató a un abogado e inició una acción alegando que fue expuesto a un ambiente de trabajo hostil, y que su despido fue en represalia por quejarse sobre el acoso de la jueza Stone hacia él.

¿Cuándo puede el acoso sexual después de una relación íntima fallida constituir acoso sexual viable bajo el Título VII de la Ley de Derechos Civiles?

Para establecer una acción de acoso sexual basada en un ambiente de trabajo hostil bajo el Título VII de la Ley de Derechos Civiles de los Estados Unidos, el empleado debe de alegar y probar que el acoso en el centro de trabajo fue basado en el sexo del empleado. El hecho de que una relación amorosa fallida de pie a un cierto acoso de parte de un empleado hacia otro en el lugar de trabajo, no necesariamente se torna en un caso de acoso sexual en el lugar de trabajo.  Es más, las cortes han determinado en el pasado que el acoso entre compañeros de trabajo no es considerado un acoso sexual cuando el mismo se desarrolla a partir de una relación amorosa fallida.  Sin embargo, una relación amorosa fallida entre un acosador y una víctima no protege al acosador de ser encontrado culpable de acoso sexual.  Por ejemplo, en un caso donde una profesora acosó a otro profesor después de una relación amorosa fallida, donde la profesora hizo amenzas tanto físicas como verbales en contra de la esposa e hijo del profesor, y tambien lo acosó en frente de sus colegas y estudiantes, la corte determinó que el acoso de la profesora no constituyó acoso sexual bajo el Título VII de la Ley de Derechos Civiles, debido a que el acoso no fue motivado por el sexo del profesor si no por el odio de la profesora causado por su relación amorosa fallida; el sexo masculino del profesor fue simplemente una coincidencia. Succar v. Dade County School Bd., 229 F.3d 1343 (11th Cir. 2000).

En otro caso, cuando una empleada fue despedida en represalia por ser víctima de un acoso en parte sexual, la empleada sí tuvo una acción viable bajo el Título VII de la Ley de Derechos Civiles, ya que las insinuaciones sexuales del agresor, las cuales hicieron sentir incómoda a la víctima, junto con sus solicitudes de reiniciar una relación amorosa previa, fueron suficientes para que la empleada tuviera una opinión basada en hechos objectivos de que ella era una víctima de acoso sexual. Lipphardt v. Durango Steakhouse of Brandon, Inc., 267 F.3d 1183 (11th Cir. 2001).

En el caso de Carl, él tiene suficientes bases para establecer una acción por represalia bajo el Título VII de la Ley de Derechos Civiles, pues fue despedido después de que reportara a Recursos Humanos el acoso sexual de parte de la jueza Stone, la cual no solo se le insinuó en varias ocasiones de una manera sexual e intimidante, pero también le pidió que reiniciaran su relación amorosa – a lo cual él se negó – y publicó una foto de él en el baño con una leyenda degradante.  A pesar de que Carl no trabajaba directamente para la jueza Stone, ella tiene una posición de considerable poder con relación a Carl, y este hecho es muy similar a un caso recientemente radicado sobre un juez en el estado de Massachusetts, donde el juez renunció a su cargo después de que se radicara la demanda por acoso sexual en su contra.  

¿Ha experimentado usted acoso sexual como resultado de una relación amorosa fallida que comenzó bajo mutuo consentimiento?  Si es así, nosotros podríamos ayudarlo.









Happy International Women’s Day! This year’s theme is building a gender-balanced world. The #BalanceforBetter campaign will continue for the rest of 2019 to inspire women and men to strive for a “gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage . . . .” Better balance between the genders is a timely theme because sexual harassment is a symptom of the power imbalance between the genders. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that working in a male-dominated environment and working in a setting with significant power differentials are two of several employment situations associated with high rates of sexual harassment and assault. For example, 1 in 4 active duty service women experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

The power imbalance shows up in all types of workplace scenarios. If you haven’t watched the RAINN #ThatsHarassment videos, I recommend you watch them. The videos are based on real incidents of sexual harassment in a law firm, a bar, a photo shoot, and a TV show set. When I first saw these videos, the common thread I noticed wasn’t just the sexual harassment, it was the balance of power. The harassers in these videos had significant advantages over their victims in these scenarios. The bartender gets harassed by a male co-worker tasked with training her on the first day of work, the young model was pushed past the boundaries of what’s appropriate in a room full of people who didn’t stop the older and experienced photographer, the new junior employee alone in the office with the boss, and the costume dresser dealing with a famous actor’s bad behavior were all in vulnerable positions when the harassment occurred. Each one of these victims may have asked themselves,

If I report this, will I lose my job?”

A common question that comes up when a sexual harassment story hits the news is “why didn’t she report it sooner”? Fear of losing her job is a big reason, being passed over for a promotion, losing her credibility, and being blackballed because she spoke up against an abuser in a powerful position are also reasons women stay quiet. If more women occupy the same positions as the men in the #ThatsHarassment videos and in leadership positions, we can hope for more respectful workplaces that bring full equality to women. Until then, the same power imbalance in American culture will continue to lend itself to situations where powerful men will harass vulnerable women.

If you think you have been the victim of sexual harassment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.

The #MeToo movement has brought many things to light over the last year along with a lot of questions about what is considered sexual harassment and what to do about it. If you are interested in learning more about these issues, Lapin & Leichtling, LLP will be hosting a Lunch & Learn on March 19, 2019. We’ll be talking about how to recognize and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. Lunch is free and space is limited, so please RSVP if you would like to attend.

Date: March 19, 2019

Time: 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. We will be starting promptly at 12 p.m.

Location: Lapin & Leichtling, LLP, 255 Alhambra Circle, Suite 1250, Coral Gables, FL 33134. Visitor parking is available on the ground floor of the parking garage behind the building or on the street.

RSVP and Questions: or (305) 569-4100.

New York City’s Upper East Side is in a tizzy because Nello, a local restaurant, has banned single women from eating at the bar because they might be escorts. That might sound outlandish, but the solicitation of customers by escorts seems to be an issue for some high end restaurants. I recently met with a server, we’ll call her Jane, who has worked for several local restaurants. According to Jane, she has seen escorts in action, along with restaurant managers and owners who serve as the go-between the madam and celebrities to place the escorts in strategic locations throughout the restaurant. Jane also said that one restaurant in particular makes it a point to hire hostesses who are young, beautiful, and new to Miami. Jane said she has heard the instructions from managers to the young hostesses to do whatever is necessary to make the celebrities and athletes happy, including going on dates. Jane says she has seen several of these young women leave the hostess position and go on to become escorts or date the celebrities they encounter at the restaurant. Meanwhile, Jane says, single women who sit at the bar are sometimes mistaken for escorts by patrons.

Although some restaurants may encourage escorts, what can a restaurant do if wants to prevent illicit sexual conduct and harassment? Nello’s answer is discriminate against all unaccompanied women with their new seating policy. Restaurants could be fertile ground for hostile work environment claims if restaurant management directs servers to look the other way and for hostesses to enable and participate in the sexual gratification of patrons as a condition of employment. One approach is for restaurants to adopt a system like the restaurant Homeroom in Oakland, California. Homeroom’s owner described her color-coded system in the Washington Post as a system in which:

different types of customer behavior are categorized as yellow, orange or red. Yellow refers to a creepy vibe or unsavory look. Orange means comments with sexual undertones, such as certain compliments on a worker’s appearance. Red signals overtly sexual comments or touching, or repeated incidents in the orange category after being told the comments were unwelcome.”

Homeroom’s staff are instructed to report harassment or unsavory behavior to the manager according to the color and the manager must take specific action such as taking over the table if “orange” is reported or ejecting the customer from the restaurant if “red” is reported. This system seems like an effective way to protect the restaurant’s staff and handle illicit activity without discriminating against female patrons.

Security cameras are another way that restaurants can work toward cracking down on bad behavior. For example, a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia installed security cameras after several servers reported assault by a customer, but the police were unable to press charges due to insufficient evidence. One of the servers, Emilia Holden, stopped a customer and called the police after he touched her butt in appropriately. The customer was charged with sexual battery after the police reviewed the security footage.

If you have been the victim of a hostile work environment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Ray v. International Paper Company, released on November 28, 2018, overturned a lower federal court’s decision to dismiss Tamika Ray’s sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims against her employer, International Paper Company, for lack of sufficient evidence to support her claims. The FourthCircuit found Ms. Ray had presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment and to allow a jury to decide her claims.

Tamika Ray worked as a “bundler’ and then promoted to the position of “operator” at International Paper Company, which manufactures and distributes packaging boxes. Johnnie McDowell was Ms. Ray’s supervisor in both positions. One year after Ms. Ray began working, Mr. McDowell started asking Ms. Ray to engage in sexual activity and offered her money in exchange for those sexual acts, in addition to making several overtly sexual comments to her. On one occasion, he grabbed her thigh while the two were alone in his office. Several years after the conduct began, Ms. Ray reported it to two other supervisors, but asked that they not report to higher authorities for fear of retaliation. When Mr. McDowell found out that Ms. Ray had complained about his conduct, he informed Ms. Ray that she could no longer perform voluntary overtime work before the beginning of her shifts, for which she would get paid time and half. This voluntary overtime work represented a significant portion of her income.

When a supervisor, such as Johnnie McDowell, is the harasser and the harassment culminates in a “tangible employment action,” an employer like International Paper Company is strictly liable. Tamika Ray had to show that action taken against her was “tangible,” by demonstrating

that any action taken against her was ‘tangible,’ such that the action constituted a ‘significant change in employment status,’ and that there was ‘some nexus’ between the harassment and the tangible action taken.”

The Fourth Circuit held that the opportunity to work voluntary overtime that was taken away from her could constitute a tangible employment action. The Court also recognized that Mr. McDowell was responsible for the decision to eliminate Ms. Ray’s voluntary overtime work, creating a sufficient nexus between the ongoing harassment and the decision to deny voluntary overtime work. The Seventh Circuit overturned the lower court’s decision, which had dismissed Ms. Ray’s claim because of lack of sufficient evidence that the harassment culminated in a tangible employment action.

As to Ms. Ray’s retaliation claim, the Fourth Circuit also held that she had sufficient evidence to show that she suffered an adverse employment action after having reported the harassment to other supervisors, and that a jury reasonably could determine that Mr. McDowell retaliated against Ms. Ray after learning she had complained about him to other supervisors. Thus, there was enough evidence for a jury to reasonably find that International Paper Company was strictly liable for Mr. McDowell’s acts.

If you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment perpetrated by a supervisor, and have experienced retaliation for reporting the misconduct, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can advise you of your legal rights. Please let us know if we can help.


Si usted tiene una demanda de acoso sexual laboral, lo que usted reporta inicialmente a la Comisión de Igualdad de Oportunidades de Empleo (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission en inglés), y cómo lo reporta, puede afectar su demanda legal en las cortes.

Antes de interponer una demanda de acoso sexual laboral en contra de su empleador bajo el Título VII de las leyes de Estados Unidos, la vícitma debe de primero presentar cargos con el EEOC (siglas en Inglés para la Comisión de Igualdad de Oportunidades de Empleo). El EEOC entonces emite una notificación llamada “derecho a demandar,” la cual le permite a la víctima interponer su demanda en las cortes.

En la reciente opinión en el caso Little v. CRSA emitida el 15 de Agosto del 2018 por el Décimo Primer Circuito de la Corte Federal de los Estados Unidos, la Corte decidió que la demanda de acoso sexual de Sybil Little estaría limitada sólo a los cargos que ella presentó anteriormente con el EEOC, y afirmó la decisión de la corte del distrito, la cual desestimó la demanda federal de Sybil Little en su totalidad.

Sybil Little estuvo empleada desde el 2006 como Técnica y Coordinadora de Seguridad de la compañía CRSA en Fort Rucker, Alabama. En su demanda en la corte federal, Sybil Little alegó que ella había sido víctima de continuos acosos sexuales de parte de Jason Patrick, el Director de Operaciones de CRSA, y de Ricky Norris, Jefe de Técnincos de CRSA. Ella alegó que Patrick le propuso tener relaciones sexuales y que Norris le hizo comentarios sobre su cuerpo y apariencia personal, y la motivó a que usara vestidos y tacones para que él puediera verla trepar por la escalera.

El principal error de Sybil Little al presentar su demanda en la corte federal fue que ella sólo incluyo en su cargo con el EEOC la alegada discriminación sexual de parte de Norris, y no la de Patrick, y tampoco incluyó en su demanda con el EEOC ningún alegato de discriminación sexual en contra de su empleador, CRSA.

La decisión del Décimo Primer Circuito detalla lo siguiente:

Las demandas ante el EEOC no se interpretan de manera estricta, y la demandas judiciales son permitidas sólo si las mismas amplian, aclaran, o se enfocan con más detalles en las alegaciones presentadas antes el EEOC. En el caso de Sybil Little, las alegaciones de su demada federal no podían aclarar alegatos que ella no incluyó en su demanda ante el EEOC.”

Bajo el Título VII de las leyes de los Estados Unidos, un reclamo de acoso sexual no se puede mantener en contra de personas naturales como Norris y Patrick, sólo en contra de empleadores como CRSA. Basado en el único alegato de conducta indebida de parte de Norris, CRSA pudiera haber sido responsable bajo el Título VII si Norris hubiera sido un supervisor inmediato de Little, lo cual haría a CRSA responsable subsidiaria por la conducta de su empleado. CRSA también pudiera haber sido responsable subsidiaria si hubiese sabido o debía de haber sabido sobre la conducta de acoso sexual de su empleado, y no hubiese tomado medidas correctivas con relación a ésta conducta. Little, sin embargo, no inluyó en su demanda ningún alegato estableciendo que Norris era su superior, ni tampoco incluyó alegaciones de que ella reportó la conducta indebida de Norris a sus directores o al departamento de Recusos Humanos. Las meras alegaciones de Little de que Norris le hizo comentarios ofensivos no son suficientes para demostrar que la dirección de CRSA sabía o debió de haber sabido del acoso sexual.

Si usted ha sido víctima de acoso sexual en su lugar de empledo, usted debe de hablar de éste asunto con un abogado especializado en este tipo de leyes, él cual lo puede guiar en todos los aspectos necesarios para poder reclamar sus derechos, desde el presentar un cargo con el EEOC hasta radicar la demanda en las cortes estatales o federales.

A Florida appellate court reversed a lower trial court’s decision to summarily dispose of a guidance counselor’s workplace sexual harassment claim against the Broward County School Board for the conduct of the principal of the school where she worked. The lower court had ruled that Cherellda Branch-McKenzie, the guidance counselor, did not provide evidence to support her claim sufficient for proceeding to trial.

The Fourth District disagreed with the lower court in Branch-McKenzie v. Broward County School Board, released on September 12, 2018.

Cherellda Branch-McKenzie worked as a guidance counselor at Riverland Elementary where Oslay Gil was the principal. Among the inappropriate conduct alleged to have happened, Mr. Gil placed his fingers on Ms. Branch-McKenzie’s lips if he thought she was talking too loud and told her “Girl, you look good. I sure would like to see what that’s like. I know I can have THAT!” Another incident involved him touching her on the neck and saying, “come on, let me kiss you right there.” When Ms. Branch-McKenzie said “no,” he said next time he would not ask, he would just do it. Mr. Gil also inappropriately touched her buttocks on multiple occasions, and on one occasion stated, “oh, I’m sorry, but it felt good.” These incidents would sometimes happen in front of co-workers, like the time when Mr. Gil touched her back and hair, and then told a co-worker who saw the exchange that Ms. Branch-McKenzie was “like a mango…you can’t have just one.” It came to a point where Ms. Branch-McKenzie would ask a co-worker not to leave her alone with Mr. Gil. Several other co-workers provided testimony of other incidents where they observed Mr. Gil’s inappropriate conduct and comments towards Ms. Branch-McKenzie.

One of the elements of a hostile work environment claim is that “the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment and create a discriminatorily abusive working environment.” Despite Ms. Branch-McKenzie’s testimony and the testimony of co-workers corroborating her claims, the lower court ruled that the evidence did not show that Mr. Gil’s conduct was pervasive enough to support a hostile work environment claim because after Ms. Branch-McKenzie reported the conduct to the School Board’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, Mr. Gil’s conduct stopped, although she testified it was because she made a point of avoiding him.

In order to determine whether offensive conduct is pervasive enough, four factors are considered: “(1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating; and (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with the employee’s job performance.”

The Fourth District Court of Appeal engaged in a fact-intensive analysis of these factors and held that Ms. Branch-McKenzie came forward with sufficient evidence as to all four factors to support a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim. The appellate court reversed the lower court’s order disposing of her claim, thereby allowing the claim against the School Board for the conduct of Mr. Gil to proceed to trial.

If you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you at the lower court level and appellate court level. Please let us know if we can help.