SW Legal studies in Business

Retaliatory Discharge for Complaint of Sexual Harassment for Jury to Determine
Description A woman employee ended an affair with her supervisor and was later fired when she complained to their manager about continuing harassment by her former boyfriend. Appeals court held that a jury verdict for a woman who contended the dismissal was retaliation was properly decided and would stand.
Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words Sexual Harassment; Hostile Environment; Office Romance; Retaliation
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Lipphardt and Knuth both worked for Durango Steakhouse. Lipphardt worked under Knuth's supervision and the two became romantically involved. After they broke up, Knuth tried to keep the relationship going, but Lipphardt refused. They had various confrontations at work, some of which Lipphardt believed to be physically threatening. She complained to two levels of managers and requested a transfer. One manager asked Knuth for reasons that could be used to "get rid of the bitch" and keep him. Knuth told him of some possible violation of company rules; Lipphardt was fired. Lipphardt sued for hostile environment, quid pro quo harassment, and retaliation. The jury found for Lipphardt on retaliation; the judge overturned the verdict as a matter of law. Lipphardt appealed.
Decision

Reversed. To recover for retaliation under Title VII, a fired employee is not required to prove that a coworker's conduct legally constituted sexual harassment, but only a good faith, reasonable belief that she was the victim of sexual harassment that led her to report the coworker's conduct to management. While a prior intimate relationship between the alleged harasser and the victim is an important factor to consider, it does not eliminate the right to claim sexual harassment. This issue of retaliatory discharge was one for the jury to decide; its verdict will stand.

Citation Lipphardt v. Durango Steakhouse of Brandon, Inc., 2001 WL 1149051 (11th Cir., 2001)

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