Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment/Hostile Work Environment

Many Atlanta employment law claims, including those pertaining to an allegedly hostile work environment and/or unlawful discrimination, will at some point go through “summary judgment” proceedings. While not every court case goes through this step in the litigation process, it is not unusual for a case to be resolved at this stage rather than proceeding to trial.

Resolution of a case during summary judgment is tantamount to telling the plaintiff that he or she simply does not have enough evidence that, even if any disputes are resolved in his or her favor by the jury, there would ultimately be a judgment in his or her favor. In other words, summary judgment is a helpful tool when viewed as a way to encourage judicial economy, saving only cases that require a jury’s deliberation for full-blown trials.

Of course, a trial court’s decision on summary judgment is not necessarily the death knell to a plaintiff’s case. Sometimes, summary judgment is reversed on appeal, and the matter is sent back down to the trial court for further proceedings.

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In an Atlanta sexual harassment claim filed under Georgia state law or federal law, the defendant will likely seek to have the plaintiff’s case dismissed on summary judgment prior to trial. Summary judgment is only appropriate in cases in which there are no genuine issues of material fact. This is because factual issues are to be determined by the finder of fact – typically a jury, but sometimes a trial court judge – during the trial, not beforehand by a motion judge.

Not just “any” dispute of fact will prevent a decision granting summary judgment (and, most likely ending the plaintiff’s case). Rather, only disputes in which a reasonable jury could find in favor of the party opposing the motion for summary judgment are considered “genuine issues of material fact.” Even though the nonmoving party may ultimately bear the burden of proof at trial, it is the party who seeks summary judgment who has the burden of showing an absence of genuine factual issues that must be resolved at trial.

In attempting to meet this burden, the party seeking summary judgment may rely on the parties’ pleadings, any depositions that have been taken during the discovery phase of the litigation, the parties answers to interrogatories and requests for admissions, affidavits, and the like. Of course, the party opposing the motion may point to similar evidence in resisting the motion. Ultimately, it is up to the trial court judge to decide whether the matter will end with summary judgment or proceed toward trial.

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No one should have to put up with discriminatory treatment in the workplace. After all, it’s 2019, and laws have been on the books for decades that protect workers from racial, gender, and age discrimination. Still, unlawful discrimination happens every day, sometimes culminating in an Atlanta employment discrimination lawsuit.

Of course, those who engage in such shameful conduct are rarely, if ever, willing to admit that they have done wrong. Instead, they make every effort to see that a plaintiff’s claims are dismissed by the courts. Fortunately, judges tend to see things differently, and many ill-advised motions to dismiss are met with a denial, either in whole or in part, by the trial court.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a woman who worked for the defendant manufacturing company from 2015 to 2018. She claimed that she was subjected to multiple instances of gender discrimination at the hands of the defendant supervisor during that time. Some of this conduct was verbal (such as calling her “stupid,” “slow,” and “ignorant”), but there were instances in which the supervisor’s actions physically harmed the plaintiff. After multiple complaints to human resources failed to remedy the situation, the plaintiff quit her job and filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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In an Atlanta employment law case asserting a claim for discrimination, harassment, or other wrongful conduct, it is important that a potential litigant consult a knowledgeable attorney who can help him or her file the appropriate paperwork within the time allowed by law. If this is not done, it is likely that the plaintiff’s case will be dismissed. Of course, simply filing a “complaint” is not, in and of itself, sufficient; it is important that the proper parties be identified and that a valid claim for relief be stated.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a woman who filed multiple complaints against the defendant commissioner, alleging that she had been the victim of harassment and disparate treatment and that the defendant had failed to make appropriate accommodations for her under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiff’s first two complaints were dismissed as frivolous, after which the plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider in the first action. However, the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal before her motion was heard.

The plaintiff then filed a third case, asserting the same claims that she had asserted in her first two lawsuits. In the third suit, however, the plaintiff identified her former employer, rather than an employee, as a defendant, thus correcting the deficiency that had caused her first two cases to be dismissed.

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The boundary lines separating what is not actionable versus what is impermissible employment discrimination have continued to shift and evolve. Regarding a strongly pro-employee ruling a California court entered in 2016 interpreting that state’s employment discrimination statute, one author wrote that the new opinion was a warning to employers:  don’t be a jerk. (The author used a word similar to jerk, but a little stronger.) In Tennessee, however, it is important to understand that the law is different here, and the mere fact, by itself, that a supervisory employee acts like a jerk or a bully or is generally extremely difficult may not necessarily be a winning case for the supervisor’s subordinate employee. An experienced Tennessee hostile work environment lawyer can help you, whether you’re an employer or employee, analyze your case and plot a smart path for you in these and other potential hostile work environment situations. Continue reading ›

Publicly available employment law court rulings can often be very helpful, both to employers and to employees. Unfortunately, many court case decisions are instructive in a “what not to do” sense, for one side or the other. Working with experienced Tennessee employment law attorneys is one way to make sure you don’t fall into the “what not to do” traps that often ensnare real-life litigants. In a recent Tennessee sexual harassment case, it was the employee’s evidence related to the employer’s allegedly woefully inadequate response to sexual harassment that allowed her to take her case to trial. Continue reading ›

The case of gross misbehavior going on at a West Tennessee auto parts store contained some unusual facts. All of the sides agreed that the conduct of the alleged harasser, who was also the store manager, was “repulsive.” Everyone agreed “that he got what he deserved when” the employer fired him shortly after its investigation. What wasn’t clear was whether the store manager held a role within the employer’s organization with enough power such that the employer could be liable for his harassing conduct. Ultimately, the courts decided that the employer was not liable in this case because of the limited authority the store manager actually held.

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The hostile work environment case of one Georgia health care company employee offered a potentially novel and unique question, namely, can an employee pursue a hostile work environment case when she was not the victim of the alleged harassment and was not even present when the alleged harassment took place? In this case, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did not need to answer this question to rule in favor of the employer because the employee’s evidence fell short of the law’s requirement that the alleged harassment be both severe and pervasive.

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A nurse anesthetist, who was the recipient of two very unwelcome text messages from a co-worker encouraging her to have “wild sex” with her husband, lost her sexual harassment case against the co-worker and her employer. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling against the nurse anesthetist because the acts of harassment she endured were either unrelated to her gender or too few to constitute the sort of severe and pervasive harassment required by Title VII.

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