Employers Beware: Workplace Gossip about Sex May Risk Liability under Title VII

May 17, 2019

Emily J. Bordens

Publication
American Bar Association

Emily J. Bordens

 

Emily Bordens wrote an article for the American Bar Association on how employers should be positive and pro-active in the #MeToo era.  
Sexually explicit rumors, affairs to influence promotion, jealous male coworkers, sexist remarks by a high-ranking manager, and ultimate retaliation and termination—an episode of Mad Men? The plot of a new show on Netflix? No. Real sexual harassment—at least according to Evangeline Parker, who filed a claim alleging discrimination under Title VII against her former employer, Reema Consulting Services, Inc. And with her allegations, we are reminded that employers must have heightened sensitivity to workplace gossip of sexual relationships, especially in this #MeToo era. Parker’s case was dismissed by the U.S. District Court of Maryland on the basis that the alleged harassing conduct was not gender-based, but the court’s decision was reversed, and her claims reinstated following appeal. Specifically, in Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc., 915 F.3d 297 (4th Cir. 2019), the Fourth Circuit held that an allegedly false rumor that a female employee had slept with her supervisor to get a promotion can implicate Title VII liability “because of sex” where the employer is alleged to have participated in the circulation of the rumor and the employee is subjected to adverse employment action because of it.

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