Appeals Court Affirms Jury Verdict of over $1.5 Million in EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Suit Against New Breed Logistics
Company Subjected Three Women to Abuse by Supervisor, Fired Male Employee Who Supported Harassment Victims
A federal appeals court has refused to grant New Breed Logistics' petition for rehearing of a decision in favor of the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency recently announced. The denial of the petition upholds a jury verdict of over $1.5 million in EEOC's lawsuit against the High Point, N.C.-based logistics services provider for sexual harassment and retaliation against three temporary female employees. New Breed had petitioned the full panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case.
On April 22, the appeals court affirmed the May 9, 2013 federal jury verdict in Memphis. The jury had found in favor of EEOC, and awarded the discrimination victims $1,513,094. Judge S. Thomas Anderson, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee, presided over the trial and denied New Breed's motion for a new trial on all grounds. According to the EEOC's suit, Civil Action No. 2:10-cv-02696-STA-TMP in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis, New Breed Logistics unlawfully discriminated against three female workers in its Memphis warehouse who were sexually harassed by a New Breed supervisor, and retaliated against them after they objected to his sexual advances. The EEOC also charged that a New Breed supervisor retaliated against a male employee who verbally opposed the supervisor's sexual harassment and supported the women's complaints.
The opinion from the Sixth Circuit, on an issue of first impression, clarified the scope of protected activity under the opposition clause of Title VII's retaliation provision. The Court of Appeals held, among other things, that the opposition clause of Title VII has an "expansive definition" and courts should give "great deference" to EEOC's interpretation of opposing conduct.
"The Commission is pleased the Sixth Circuit did not see any reason to reconsider its earlier opinion," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "Telling a harassing supervisor to cease his or her harassing conduct constitutes protected activity under Title VII and changes the law of opposition in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan, the jurisdictions covered by the Sixth Circuit."
The appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was handled by Assistant General Counsel Lorraine C. Davis and Appellate Attorney Susan Oxford of the Appellate Services Division of EEOC's Office of General Counsel.
Faye A. Williams, regional attorney for the Memphis District Office, said, "The denial of the petition for rehearing paves the way for New Breed to finally compensate the four claimants for the sexual harassment and retaliation they endured at the hands of the warehouse supervisor. While it took about seven years for the claimants to achieve justice, in this case, justice delayed is not justice denied."
New Breed Logistics, a logistics services provider that helps companies design and operate supply chains, warehousing and distribution, operates five Memphis warehouses. New Breed is a national company, headquartered in High Point, N.C. The company also has warehouses in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles and Kearny, N.J.
On June 17, 2015, the EEOC Commissioners held a Meeting on Retaliation in the Workplace: Causes, Remedies and Strategies for Prevention. Further, EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang announced the formation of a select task force of academics, practitioners and stakeholders, under the co-leadership of Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, to study harassment in the workplace in all its forms and the ways in which it could be prevented.
The EEOC enforces laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.