Federal Court in Georgia Denies Summary Judgment in Part, Permits Retaliation Lawsuit to Move Forward

Recently, a federal court in Georgia granted in part and denied in part an employer’s motion for summary judgment, allowing a sexual harassment lawsuit to move forward.

In Bosco v. Lincare, Inc., Ms. Bosco filed a complaint alleging unlawful sexual discrimination and harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Bosco claimed that in 2009, her supervisor grabbed her rear and attempted to kiss her, before she rebuffed him.  Later that night, her supervisor allegedly sent her a text message asking Bosco to come to his hotel room.  After Bosco refused, she claimed that her supervisor instigated a series of acts intended to punish Bosco and to undermine her authority over her subordinates.  Bosco then reported her supervisor’s actions to Lincare’s Human Resources Department in early 2010, providing copies of her phone records documenting the text.

Although she was informed that the incident would be investigated, no action was taken toward her supervisor, and his allegedly retaliatory behavior increased.  After Bosco failed to meet her 60-day goals, her employment was terminated in July 2010.  Bosco then filed for discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before finally filing a lawsuit after receiving her right to sue letter.  

In June 2013, Lincare moved for summary judgment on the grounds that there was no temporal proximity between the supervisor’s harassment and Bosco’s termination, that Bosco’s termination was based on grounds independent of the supposed harassment, that Bosco’s supervisor was not the ultimate decision maker, and that Bosco had earlier claimed that nepotism was a motivating factor in her termination.  Lincare also claimed that Bosco could not establish a causal connection between her supervisor’s actions and her termination, and that Lincare had legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for terminating Bosco.

In considering whether to grant summary judgment, the court looked at whether Bosco had established a claim for retaliation.  Bosco argued that in 2010, shortly after her complaint to Human Resources, Lincare placed her on a 60-day action plan, despite the fact that the goals involved were usually annual goals.  Bosco claimed that a jury might find the action plan to be an adverse employment action that would dissuade a reasonable person from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.  Given the closeness in proximity between her complaint and the 60-day action plan, Bosco claimed that there was a causal connection between the two.  The court agreed, noting that the Eleventh Circuit had ruled that a close temporal proximity alone is sufficient enough evidence to establish a causal connection.  Overall, the court found that Bosco had established a prima facie case for retaliation, in that she was engaged in statutorily protected activity; she suffered an adverse employment action; and the action was causally related to her protected activities.

Though Lincare argued that it had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Bosco’s employment, the court noted that Bosco had successfully argued that these reasons were just pretext for the discriminatory reasons.  Bosco had brought up an instance where her supervisor told Human Resources that he hated Bosco and intended to place her on an action plan.

However, the court rejected the state claims that Bosco made, including intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Bosco’s termination was not “extreme and outrageous” conduct by Lincare, and Bosco did not suffer extreme distress over it.  So while the court granted Lincare’s motion for summary judgment on those grounds, it denied it on the retaliation claim, allowing Bosco’s claim of harassment and retaliation to move forward.

Parks, Chesin & Walbert represents plaintiffs in employment matters, including employment discrimination, wage and hour, FMLA, and more.  With offices in Atlanta and Nashville, we offer a client-centered philosophy and strive to accomplish our clients’ goals as if they are our own.  If you live in Georgia or Tennessee and need an experienced Atlanta employment law attorney, contact us today at 404-873-8048.

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