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.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case filed in a federal district court in Georgia, the plaintiff was a man who worked as a beverage server and line server for the defendant restaurant from September 2016 to December 2017. During this time, the plaintiff reportedly made multiple complaints about a female co-worker who intentionally rubbed her body (her including her breasts and buttocks) against his even after he asked her to stop. He also claimed that the coworker had made certain hand gestures by which she insinuated that the plaintiff was a homosexual. On December 5, 2017, the plaintiff filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Two days later, the plaintiff was fired.
The plaintiff later filed suit in federal court, asserting claims for sexual harassment and retaliation against the defendant under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The former employer filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that the plaintiff’s case should be dismissed. In support of its motion, the defendant asserted that it had been unaware of the plaintiff’s EEOC complaint at the time that the decision had been made to fire the plaintiff and that he was fired because of his poor work performance and his continuing insubordination.
The Court’s Decision
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the defendant was not entitled to summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s sexual harassment or retaliation claims. In so holding, the court noted that there were two types of sex-based discrimination in the workplace under Title VII: tangible employment action (such as termination, demotion, or a decrease in pay) and creation of a hostile work environment. In order to prevail on a hostile work environment theory of liability, the plaintiff had to show that the sexual harassment to which he or she was subjected was sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the terms and conditions of the work.
For purposes of summary judgment, the district court opined that the plaintiff had presented at least a genuine issue of material fact as to the basic elements of a hostile workplace claim, namely that he was part of a protected group, that he had been subjected to unwelcome harassment, that the harassment was based on a protected characteristic (here, the plaintiff’s gender), that the harassment was severe or pervasive, and that the employer was responsible for the offending workplace environment. In so holding, the court noted that the jury could possibly find that the defendant’s statement that the plaintiff’s complaints about the coworker were “going to end” could be construed as meaning that either the plaintiff would stop complaining or that he would be fired.
Contact a Sexual Harassment Attorney in Atlanta
If you are in need of legal representation concerning a potential Atlanta sexual harassment case, Parks, Chesin & Walbert is here to help. Our team of professional employment law litigators are here to advocate on your behalf as you seek to assert your legal rights in the workplace. You can schedule an appointment by contacting us through this website or by phoning us at 404-873-8048. Our phone lines are answered 24/7. As with any legal matter, please know that there are deadlines that can affect the timeliness of your claim, and a failure to comply with this requirement can result in forfeiture of what might otherwise be a valid claim.