In Estabrook v. Safety and Ecology Corp., the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s order dismissing an employee’s complaint filed under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The Appellate Court said the trial judge used the wrong legal standard in ruling on the sufficiency of the pleadings.
In 2012, the employee, a chemist who conducted scientific experiments for the employer, filed a claim in federal court, asserting sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and unlawful retaliation. The trial court dismissed the complaint as legally insufficient.
Plaintiff asserted that a coworker sexual harassed her, and that after she complained to the employer about it, she suffered additional retaliatory harassment from coworkers. Plaintiff claimed that she was suspended, demoted, and constructively discharged due to false accusations made against her. Plaintiff asserted that the employer knew the coworker had sexually harassed other female employees and failed to take any corrective or disciplinary steps to stop the harassment.
The Third Circuit’s ruling
The Third Circuit held the complaint provided sufficient factual allegations to support each element of the employee’s claims. The Appellate Court said that the employee’s complaint alleged sufficiently specific facts regarding the coworker’s history of harassing other employees, and that management was aware of this history.
With regard to the retaliatory harassment claim, the Third Circuit found that the complaint adequately pleaded that the retaliatory conduct would not have occurred but for the plaintiff’s complaint against the coworker. Furthermore, the acts of retaliatory conduct alleged were sufficient to plead the existence of a hostile work environment.
The Third Circuit also stated that the complaint pleaded sufficient facts regarding plaintiff’s claim that the employer was aware of the coworker harassment and negligently failed to take prompt, effective measures to stop it.
On the unlawful retaliation claim, the Third Circuit stated that the complaint alleged sufficient facts from which liability of the employer could reasonably be inferred. The complaint stated that the employee discussed the sexual harassment complaint with two of her managers who were later involved in investigations that resulted in the employee’s constructive discharge. Plaintiff said the managers acted in retaliation for her reports of sexual harassment.
People who have employment law concerns should promptly consult with experienced legal counsel to assure that their employment rights are protected.