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Sixth Circuit: Delaying the Resolution of a Teacher’s Discrimination Grievance Due to EEOC Filing was ‘Clearly Retaliatory’

teacherWhen you experience what you believe to be workplace discrimination, there may be many possible wrinkles that could affect your ability to pursue or win your case. Each case comes with its own unique nuances, which is why it is so important to have an experienced Tennessee discrimination attorney on your side who can take each of the unique elements of your case and help you address each of them to achieve a favorable result.

One important thing to keep in mind, which is a key area where skilled counsel can help you, is that sometimes the unique facts of your case may actually present you with opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to you. One example of this was a case involving an eighth-grade language arts teacher named Joyce. In 2009, Joyce’s employer transferred her from one middle school to another. She had worked for the school district for 10 years at the time of her transfer.

Shortly after the transfer, problems flared. There was an incident in which Joyce allegedly used coarse language on a phone call with the bookkeeper at her old school. Then, there was an incident in which Joyce allegedly skipped an instructional meeting with the assistant principal at her new school. Allegedly, there were more missed meetings, along with belated submission of lesson plans and a “tense encounter involving a school security guard.” By 2010, the district terminated Joyce for insubordination.

Joyce, however, was convinced that her termination wasn’t really caused by her behavior but was a result of race, sex, and age discrimination. On the day the district fired her, the teacher filed a grievance with the board of education. The teacher also filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The wrinkle that made Joyce’s case complicated was the fact that she was a member of a union, and her employment was subject to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the teachers’ union and the school district. The CBA created a grievance process for teachers who believe they suffered harm as a result of “improper, arbitrary, or discriminatory conduct.” However, when the teacher launched her EEOC complaint, the CBA dictated that the grievance process was “held in abeyance,” which means it was essentially frozen, until the EEOC resolved the teacher’s agency complaint.

What the teacher eventually did was to take all of the actions done in her case and go to court to assert a claim for retaliation. Joyce’s retaliation lawsuit basically argued that any procedural system that forced her to choose between asserting her right to file a complaint with the EEOC or receiving a swift and efficient resolution of her grievance was inherently retaliatory.

The trial court sided against the teacher, but the Sixth Circuit ruled in Joyce’s favor. Having one’s grievance case forcibly frozen and delayed clearly qualifies as an “adverse employment action” under previous Sixth Circuit rulings. This meant that Joyce suffered an adverse employment action simply because she exercised her statutory right to engage in the protected activity of seeking relief via the EEOC. Any time that happens, it is “clearly retaliatory,” the appeals court stated.

In Joyce’s case, the Sixth Circuit gave the green light to her pursuit not only of the school district but, in an unusual twist, also the teachers’ union. The court concluded that the union signed off on the CBA. The CBA’s terms were such that they forced teachers into a “Hobson’s choice” of either asserting their rights under federal anti-discrimination law or else enjoying a speedy resolution to their internal grievance filing. These terms necessarily violated the anti-retaliatory provisions of Title VII and the ADEA, so both the district and the union were potentially liable to Joyce, and she was entitled to pursue both of them in court.

Whichever form of discrimination you’ve suffered on the job, you need knowledgeable counsel who knows whom to pursue and how to get the maximum recovery permitted by the law. The diligent Georgia race discrimination attorneys at Mays & Kerr have been helping both workers and employers as they use the legal system to resolve their discrimination and other employment disputes.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 1-877-986-5529.

More blog posts:

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Ruling in Favor of Georgia Employer in FMLA Retaliation Case, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Nov. 8, 2017

11th Circuit: Lawyer Who Participated in Former Co-Worker’s Lawsuit Allowed to Pursue Retaliation Case, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, June 21, 2016

Photo Credit: K Whiteford, [CC0 License], via publicdomainpictures.net