August 22, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Findings of Fact Needed to Determine Whether Termination Caused by Employer’s Belief that Employee Engaged in Protected Activity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bird v. West Valley City on Monday, August 8, 2016.

Karen Bird was hired at West Valley City’s animal shelter in 2001, and was promoted to manager by Kelly Davis, her direct supervisor, in 2002. In 2005, West Valley City’s human resources manager, Shirlayne George, investigated the shelter and reported several negative comments about Ms. Bird by fellow employees. Mr. Davis was also the subject of several complaints, especially by women, and Ms. George investigated him in 2009. Most of the women who complained about Mr. Davis were either fired or voluntarily left the animal shelter shortly after complaining. Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis had a disagreement in 2009, and their already strained relationship deteriorated thereafter, to the point where Ms. Bird would not look Mr. Davis in the eye and could not stand to be in the same room as him.

In October 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about a cat that had endured two failed euthanasia attempts in the shelter’s gas chamber. About a week later, a reporter called the shelter after receiving an anonymous tip about a planned mass-euthanasia due to overpopulation. Both Layne Morris, the Community Preservation Department Director and Mr. Davis’s direct supervisor, and Mr. Davis believed that the anonymous tip had come from Ms. Bird, although she denied it. Ms. Bird was notoriously against using the gas chamber for euthanasia and was one of the few individuals privy to the information about the shelter’s overpopulation. Shortly after this incident, Ms. Bird emailed Ms. George that she could not take any more of Mr. Davis’s harassment. She filed a formal complaint on November 3, 2011.

Less than a week later, Mr. Davis issued two letters of reprimand to Ms. Bird regarding unauthorized use of overtime pay, despite the shelter’s usual practice of issuing less formal warnings before the letters of reprimand. On November 14, in response to Ms. Bird’s complaint, Ms. George undertook an investigation of the entire shelter. She received several complaints regarding both Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis, but more against Ms. Bird. Mr. Morris reviewed the results of the investigation and decided to discipline Ms. Bird for insubordination and failure to be courteous to the public or other shelter employees. He sent Ms. Bird a letter advising of the discipline on November 16, and ultimately terminated her employment on November 29. Mr. Morris testified that his decision to terminate Ms. Bird was not only based on the November 2011 investigation, but rather because of the deterioration of the relationship between Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis. Mr. Morris also testified that he had considered terminating Ms. Bird in December 2010 but Mr. Davis stayed his hand.

Ms. Bird unsuccessfully appealed her termination to Ms. George, then the city’s human resources director, and finally to the West Valley City Appeals Board. When all three appeals were unsuccessful, Ms. Bird filed a complaint in district court, alleging the city terminated her in violation of Title VII as a result of gender discrimination and subjected her to a hostile work environment; the city violated § 1983 because it terminated her as a result of gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause; and both the city and Mr. Davis violated § 1983 because they terminated her in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights concerning the anonymous tip to the reporter. Ms. Bird maintained that she did not provide the anonymous tip, but because she was perceived as doing so, the termination in retaliation violated her First Amendment rights. Ms. Bird also brought state law claims for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on all claims.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit first considered Ms. Bird’s Title VII gender discrimination and hostile work environment claims. Applying the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s claim that the shelter had a pattern and practice of discriminating against female employees. However, Mr. Morris provided two legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Ms. Bird: insubordination and failure to be courteous and cooperative with fellow employees. The Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s proffered reasons why Mr. Morris’s explanation was pretextual. She first contended that the reasons he outlined for terminating her differed from those offered in his deposition. The Tenth Circuit disagreed; the Circuit noted that Mr. Morris had offered specific examples in his deposition but his stated reasons for Ms. Bird’s termination were always insubordination and failure to be courteous. Ms. Bird also contended that the individuals to whom she appealed her termination offered different reasons, but the Tenth Circuit found that they merely offered different instances of her conduct. The Tenth Circuit held that no reasonable juror could determine that the city’s reason for terminating her was pretextual.

The Tenth Circuit similarly disposed of Ms. Bird’s hostile work environment claims. Although Mr. Davis’s conduct was deplorable, the Circuit did not find any evidence that his behavior was gender-based. Ms. Bird pointed to several statements, but the statements were generalized and did not point to specific instances. The Tenth Circuit refused to consider vague and conclusory statements as evidence of gender discrimination.

Turning next to the § 1983 Equal Protection claims, the Tenth Circuit found that because Ms. Bird alleged the same facts to prove her Equal Protection claim as she asserted to prove her Title VII claims, the Equal Protection argument failed for the same reasons. The Tenth Circuit also disposed of Ms. Bird’s state law breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims. Ms. Bird relied on the employee handbook to argue her claims based on violation of the “Workplace Violence” section and the unwritten anti-retaliation policy. The Tenth Circuit found that the large disclaimer on the handbook eliminated all contractual liability for the city.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s § 1983 First Amendment retaliation claims. Although Ms. Bird continued to argue that she did not make the anonymous tips to the reporters, she alleged that she was terminated in retaliation because the city believed she had made the tips. The Tenth Circuit found that the Supreme Court’s decision in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, 136 S. Ct. 1412 (2016), controlled its analysis. The lower court did not evaluate Ms. Bird’s First Amendment claims because she could not show that she engaged in protected activity. The Tenth Circuit remanded for a determination of whether Ms. Bird raised a genuine issue of material fact that the city’s belief motivated its decision to terminate her employment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the Title VII gender discrimination and retaliation claims, the § 1983 Equal Protection Claims, and the state law contractual claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded on the § 1983 First Amendment claims.

Tenth Circuit: District Court Within Discretion to Deny Late-Filed Motion to Amend Complaint

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Zisumbo v. Ogden Regional Medical Center on Friday, September 4, 2015.

Raymond Zisumbo worked at Ogden Regional Medical Center (ORMC) as a CT scan technician from March 2005 to October 2009. In 2009, Anthony Rodebush became Zisumbo’s supervisor. About the same time, Zisumbo applied for a promotion to a vacant CT Coordinator position. Rodebush expressed curiosity about why Zisumbo was eager for the promotion, and asked whether he’d ever been fired from other jobs. In response, Zisumbo produced letters from three previous employers to prove he was not fired, which Rodebush filed without reviewing. On September 15, 2009, at a staff pizza party, Rodebush remarked that Zisumbo wanted the CT Coordinator position and invited criticism from Zisumbo’s coworkers about why he was not suited for the job. Later that day, Zisumbo accused Rodebush of treating him differently because Zisumbo is Hispanic. Rodebush informed Zisumbo that he should discuss his concerns with the human resources manager, Chris Bissenden. Zisumbo interpreted this as a threat. Rather than discuss his concerns with Bissenden, Zisumbo filed a complaint with the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division about a week after the pizza party alleging race discrimination, and also contacted ORMC’s ethics line with complaints of race discrimination and unprofessional behavior. ORMC’s record of the call noted only complaints of unprofessional behavior.

Judd Taylor, ORMC’s ethics compliance officer, investigated Zisumbo’s ethics line complaint and met privately with Rodebush during his investigation. He later met with Zisumbo and Rodebush, and the following day issued a written warning to Zisumbo for events that had occurred months earlier. Taylor and Rodebush also reviewed the letters Zisumbo had provided from his previous employers and immediately became suspicious that they were fabricated. On October 8, Rodebush and Taylor gave the letters to Bissenden, who began investigating their authenticity and discovered that at least one letter was falsified. Later that day, Taylor, Bissenden, and Rodebush met with Zisumbo and terminated his employment based on dishonesty because of the falsified letters.

On May 2, 2010, Zisumbo filed this action, alleging a Title VII hostile work environment claim. Six months later, ORMC permitted Zisumbo to amend his complaint to include Title VII claims based on race discrimination, hostile work environment, failure to promote, and discriminatory termination; a Title VII retaliation claim asserting that Zisumbo was fired for complaining about race discrimination; and a state law claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The district court entered a stipulated order setting deadlines for the litigation, including a September 2011 deadline for amending pleadings. However, in January 2012, Zisumbo sought to amend his complaint to add a claim of race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The district court denied his motion. Zisumbo then filed a new lawsuit in the same court alleging the same claims he unsuccessfully sought to add to his previous complaint and moved to consolidate the two actions. The district court dismissed his second complaint, and Zisumbo appealed to the Tenth Circuit. A prior panel of the Tenth Circuit ultimately rejected his “ill-conceived effort to end-run the district court’s decision.”

In the meantime, the district court granted summary judgment to ORMC on Zisumbo’s good faith and fair dealing, hostile work environment, and failure to promote claims. Zisumbo moved for reconsideration and alternatively sought to amend his complaint, which motions the district court denied. Zisumbo’s remaining claims were tried to a jury, which ultimately found against him on his discriminatory termination claim but for him on his retaliatory termination claim. Zisumbo sought back pay up to trial and reinstatement or front pay up to three years, but the district court foreshortened his award based on Zisumbo’s misdemeanor conviction for assaulting his daughter. Both parties sought attorney fees and ORMC moved for judgment as a matter of law on Zisumbo’s retaliatory termination claim. The district court denied ORMC’s motion and awarded attorney fees to Zisumbo, reducing his request based on his limited success in the litigation.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit first addressed Zisumbo’s claim that the district court abused its discretion by not allowing him to amend his complaint after the September 2011 deadline. Although Zisumbo asserted his lawyer did not realize he could assert the § 1981 claim until January 2012, he possessed all the facts forming the basis of the claim by April 2011. The Tenth Circuit attributed the failure to timely amend his complaint to Zisumbo and found it well within the district court’s discretion to deny the proposed amendment. The Tenth Circuit also found no error in the district court’s grant of summary judgment to ORMC on Zisumbo’s good faith and fair dealing claim, finding that Zisumbo was an at will employee and had no contractual relationship with ORMC to necessitate a duty of good faith and fair dealing.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed ORMC’s cross-appeal regarding the district court’s denial of its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law on the retaliatory termination claim. ORMC disputed that there was a causal nexus between the employee’s opposition to discrimination and the employer’s adverse action. The Tenth Circuit found ample record support for the nexus, including that Bissenden’s termination decision was made based on more than one of the falsified letters and that she acted together with Taylor and Rodebush in making the termination decision. ORMC also argued that no reasonable jury could have concluded that its decision to terminate Zisumbo was pretextual, but the Tenth Circuit again disagreed, finding that the timing of the termination supported an inference that he was terminated because he complained of discrimination.

Zisumbo also argued the district court erred in denying his request for a punitive damages instruction. The Tenth Circuit found Zisumbo’s proffered cases inapposite, and instead noted that he must show that ORMC, not just its employees, failed to make good faith efforts to comply with Title VII. Because ORMC had well established anti-discrimination policies, trained its managers on those policies, and consistently investigated reports of discrimination, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that punitive damages were inappropriate.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Zisumbo’s argument that he should have received more in back pay and front pay or reinstatement. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that ORMC would have terminated Zisumbo based on the misdemeanor assault conviction and therefore it was appropriate to cut off the back pay award after the date Zisumbo pleaded guilty to the charge. The Tenth Circuit likewise approved of the method used by the district court to calculate the back pay award. The Tenth Circuit also approved of the district court’s reduction of the attorney fee award based on Zisumbo’s limited success in litigation.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Verification Requirement for EEOC Charge Non-Jurisdictional

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Gad v. Kansas State University on Wednesday, May 27, 2015.

Sabreen Gad was hired by KSU in 2010 as a part-time assistant professor of geology. She subsequently requested to be promoted to a full-time professorship or promote her to membership on the graduate faculty, and when she did not receive either promotion, she filed an unverified charge with the EEOC alleging religious, sex, and national origin discrimination. The EEOC investigator mailed her a Form 5, which has a box in which to sign under penalty of perjury, satisfying the verification requirement, and also a letter instructing her to verify the charge within 30 days or the EEOC would be authorized to dismiss the charge. The investigator also mailed a letter to KSU that Gad had filed an “unperfected” charge of discrimination, and advising that no action was required by KSU. Later, the investigator spoke to Gad again and advised her that further investigation would be unlikely to result in a violation and the EEOC would issue her a dismissal and right-to-sue notice. The notice was mailed to Gad and copied to KSU after the conversation.

Gad sued KSU in federal court. KSU’s answer stated that Gad had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies but did not mention the unverified charge. KSU then moved for summary judgment, arguing the court lacked jurisdiction because Gad had failed to exhaust administrative remedies by not verifying her EEOC charge. The district court agreed, finding exhaustion of administrative remedies is a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit. Gad appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first discussed whether Title VII’s verification requirement was a prerequisite to its subject matter jurisdiction. Although Title VII specifically confers jurisdiction as a general matter, it also requires claimants to submit a “charge” to the EEOC, which must be in writing and must be signed and verified. The Tenth Circuit noted that it is not clear whether the verification requirement is a jurisdictional prerequisite to a Title VII suit. The Tenth Circuit analyzed Supreme Court cases and its own precedent and concluded (1) the language discussing Title VII jurisdiction was not located in the same statute as the verification requirement, tending to show the verification requirement was non-jurisdictional; (2) courts should be careful in interpreting procedural rules to deprive non-lawyers of rights in proceedings they initiate; (3) verification protects employers from the burden of responding to frivolous claims or claims of which they had no notice; and (4) failure to verify will not necessarily render a document fatally defective.

Applying the four principles to the verification requirement, the Tenth Circuit determined it was non-jurisdictional, but noted “[h]olding verification non-jurisdictional does not imply any diminution in the need for plaintiffs to comply with this Title VII requirement.” The Circuit held that an employer may still achieve dismissal based on a verification defect, and found that verification is a condition precedent to suit. The verification requirement is integrated into a statutory section delineating steps a plaintiff must satisfy before receiving leave to sue. Although Gad argued only the EEOC waived the requirement, not KSU, the Circuit held the requirement cannot be waived unilaterally, but non-compliance may be excused in some cases.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Bifurcation of Position Does Not Defeat Comparison for Employment Discrimination Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Riser v. QEP Energy on Tuesday, January 27, 2015.

Kathy Riser, who was 50 years old in 2013, began working for Questar Exploration and Production Co. in 1997. In 2003, she became an Administrative Services Representative II, where she managed a fleet of 250 vehicles, performed facilities management duties, and managed construction projects in several states. She was the only Questar employee performing fleet management and facilities management duties. In 2010, QEP was spun off from Questar and became a separate entity. Based on the title of Ms. Riser’s job and not her actual duties, she was classified under the new employee classification system as a Grade 5 employee making $22.78 per hour or $47,382 annualized. Twice Ms. Riser requested that her title and salary be changed to reflect her actual duties, but her supervisor, Mr. Beach, would not respond.

In May 2011, QEP created a new position, “Fleet Administrator,” and had Ms. Riser craft a job description for the position based on her fleet management duties. The position was classified as a Grade 7 position with an annual salary of $62,000. QEP hired Matthew Chinn, a 39-year-old man, as Fleet Administrator in June 2011. Ms. Riser trained Mr. Chinn in fleet management duties until her termination in September 2011. QEP stated that Mr. Chinn took over Ms. Riser’s fleet management duties as well as other duties; however, Ms. Riser stated that she was in the process of implementing the new programs when Mr. Chinn was hired.

In August 2011, QEP began discussing creating a new “Facilities Manager” position and spoke with Jason Bryant, a 30-year-old man, about the position. QEP stated they were receiving complaints about Ms. Riser’s work overseeing a North Dakota construction project, but none of these complaints were conveyed to her during the time period and she continued to receive favorable reviews. QEP terminated Ms. Riser on September 8, 2011, stating her termination was due to her poor performance on the North Dakota construction project. She had not received any warning or been placed on suspension prior to her termination. QEP then hired Mr. Bryant as the facilities manager, classified as a Grade 7 employee and making $66,000 annually.

Ms. Riser brought suit against QEP in federal district court in Utah alleging: (1) pay discrimination under the EPA, Title VII, and ADEA; (2) failure to promote under Title VII and the ADEA; and (3) discriminatory discharge under Title VII and the ADEA. The district court granted summary judgment to QEP on all claims. Ms. Riser appealed the summary judgment on all but her failure to promote claim.

The Tenth Circuit found Ms. Riser’s claims to be precisely the sort of factual disputes that preclude summary judgment. On her EPA claims, the district court held that Ms. Riser had not established that her job was “substantially equal” to either Mr. Chinn’s or Mr. Bryant’s job, and also that even if she could establish a prima facie claim of discrimination, the pay scale was based on a gender-neutral system. The Tenth Circuit disagreed on both points, finding “the fact that a female employee performed additional duties beyond a male comparator does not defeat the employee’s prima facie case under the EPA.” The Tenth Circuit noted that QEP’s argument that Ms. Riser had no comparator was especially disingenuous, since her position was bifurcated to create the two jobs which were then given to younger men at a higher rate of pay. The Tenth Circuit similarly disposed of QEP’s argument that its pay scale was gender-neutral, as Ms. Riser’s pay was not based on her actual duties but rather those duties typically performed by people with her title. The Tenth Circuit likewise found merit to Ms. Riser’s Title VII and ADEA claims, since they had a lower burden of proof.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Ms. Riser’s discriminatory discharge claims, finding these were not adequately briefed. In her opening argument, Ms. Riser did not argue that she satisfied her prima facie case, only that one existed. The Tenth Circuit concluded this argument was waived.

The district court’s summary judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Tenth Circuit: Burden Shifts to Plaintiff to Rebut Defendant’s Claim of Termination for Misconduct

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Estate of Bassatt v. School District No. 1 in the City & County of Denver on Wednesday, December 31, 2014.

In 2007, Carlos Bassatt was student teaching at West High School in Denver while he pursued a Masters of Education degree from Regis University. On September 14, 2007, Bassatt left the school building, got into his Ford Focus, and reclined the seat. Maria Iams, a district employee, parked next to him, and when she bent to retrieve something in her car, she saw a man masturbating in the Ford Focus. She did not know Bassatt and did not know he worked at West. She reported the incident to school officials, and it was then relayed to West’s resource officer. After reviewing security videos, Iams was able to identify the car but not the person who left the car to enter the school building. The Dean of Students, Dan Trujillo, identified the man as Bassatt.

On the morning of September 17, 2007, Trujillo and West’s principal, Patrick Sanchez, had a meeting with Bassatt and informed him that he had been accused of masturbating in his car in the West parking lot. Bassatt was placed on administrative leave. He was summoned to the Denver Police Department, but ultimately no charges were filed against him. Sanchez sent Bassatt an email on September 19 saying that he was clear to return to West, but later spoke to the district’s Director of Labor Relations, who advised Sanchez that the District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute did not stop the district from taking action against Bassatt.

Sanchez and the Director of Labor Relations met with Bassatt and his wife, who was a teacher at West, on September 26. Bassatt declared that the accusation was racially motivated and the decision to end his placement at West was discriminatory. He was terminated from his placement on September 27, 2007.

Bassatt filed charges with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC), alleging discrimination and retaliation by the district. After a two-day hearing, an ALJ concluded Bassatt had failed to prove either discrimination or retaliation. Bassatt appealed to the CCRC, which reversed the ALJ’s determination on the retaliation claim, finding that Bassatt had established a prima facie case of retaliation and the district’s termination was pretextual. The district appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which affirmed the CCRC’s finding that Bassatt had established a prima facie case of retaliation. However, the court remanded to the CCRC to consider the ultimate issue of retaliation.

Before the CCRC could issue its opinion on remand, Bassatt filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, raising a number of issues, including retaliation in violation of Title VII and in breach of his student teacher agreement. The CCRC then issued its final order on remand, concluding that the district had terminated him in retaliation for his accusations of discrimination, and the district had not provided a non-discriminatory reason for its actions. In August 2012, Bassatt died, and his estate was substituted as plaintiff in the district court action.

The district court granted summary judgment to the district, concluding the estate had failed to make a sufficient showing of pretext to defeat summary judgment on its Title VII claim. It also dismissed his §§ 1981 and 1983 claims, because Bassatt did not have a contract to student teach. The estate appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first noted that it was not bound by the administrative agency’s findings, but the state court’s factual and legal determinations had a preclusive effect as to the Tenth Circuit’s review. The Colorado Court of Appeals’ opinion that the Estate made a prima facie case of retaliation was thus binding on the Tenth Circuit. The Circuit noted that it need only find whether (1) the district provided a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its decision, and (2) the estate was able to demonstrate that the reason was mere pretext. The Tenth Circuit found the incident in the parking lot to be a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason for the employment decision and turned to the pretext question.

The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the estate failed to provide sufficient evidence to create a triable issue on pretext. The estate argued that the district court impermissibly shifted the burden of proof, but the Tenth Circuit noted that in employment discrimination actions, the plaintiff must rebut the employer’s claim of misconduct, which the plaintiff here did not do. Next, the estate argued the district court erred in finding Sanchez made a sincere credibility determination in believing Iams, contending insufficient evidence supported her credibility. However, in this case, Sanchez had no direct evidence either way, heard stories from both sides, and decided ultimately to believe Iams. The estate also argued that Sanchez’s first email inviting Bassatt back to work was evidence that he believed Bassatt, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding it was bound by the court of appeals’ decision that specifically reviewed and rejected that position. The Tenth Circuit found no evidence of pretext.

The estate also argued that the CCRC’s second order provided evidence of pretext. However, the Tenth Circuit is not bound by administrative opinions, and found it unpersuasive on review. Turning then to the §§ 1981 and 1983 claims, the Tenth Circuit found again that the estate could not show pretext, and also that there was no employment contract between Bassatt and the district. The estate argued that Bassatt’s student teacher agreement qualified as a contract, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding it did not create a contract.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the school district.

Tenth Circuit: Employee Must Be Able to Perform Essential Job Duties to Make Claim Under ADA and Title VII

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Myers v. Knight Protective Service, Inc. on Monday, December 22, 2014.

Alphonso Myers suffered a workplace injury, and was granted Social Security disability benefits on the ground he was unable to work. He then applied for and was selected for a position as a security guard for Knight Protective Service. During the interview process, he was asked repeatedly if he had any physical disabilities, and answered no each time. However, at work, his supervisor noticed he seemed to be in pain, and Myers confessed to having undergone several back and neck surgeries. The supervisor sent him home and told him he could not return to work unless he passed a physical examination. Several months passed, during which Myers waited for Knight to contact him to schedule the exam, but it did not happen, so Myers considered himself effectively terminated and sued Knight for race and disability discrimination, alleging several torts. The district court dismissed some of Myers’ claims and granted summary judgment to Knight on the rest. Myers appealed.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. In order to make a claim under the ADA and Title VII, the employee must show he was qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. Myers could not show qualification; in his application with Knight, he acknowledged he would be required to “engage in frequent and prolonged walking, standing, and sitting; to react quickly to dangerous situations; to subdue violent individuals; and to lift heavy weights.” He could do none of those activities.

The Tenth Circuit also rejected Myers’ assertion of disparate treatment based on race, finding no support for his allegations. The Tenth Circuit likewise rejected Myers’ complaint that the district court failed to address his “cat’s paw” argument as to his supervisor, since he failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by anyone. Myers’ tortious interference claims also failed for lack of evidence.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal and summary judgment and granted the motion to seal certain medical records.

Tenth Circuit: Surmise and Conjecture Insufficient to Establish Causal Connection Between Discrimination Claim and Refusal to Promote

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ward v. Jewell on Monday, November 24, 2014.

Mike Ward was once a supervisor for the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation. After another employee filed a charge of discrimination against Mr. Ward, he was demoted and Mr. Durrant took over his supervisory role. Mr. Ward complained to the EEOC about the reorganization, and a few years later, he tried unsuccessfully to get his old job back. Later, he applied for a managerial position in Provo, Utah, but was not selected. He invoked Title VII, blaming his employer for retaliation for failing to give him his old job back and passing over him for the Provo position. To survive summary judgment, he had to show a connection between the protected activity and the refusal to give him his old job back or hire him for the other supervisory position.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed Mr. Ward’s Title VII claims and found that he did not show a connection between the protected activity and the employment actions. Because of the remoteness in time between Mr. Ward’s EEOC claim and the Department’s refusal to terminate or demote Mr. Durrant and give Mr. Ward his old job back, Mr. Ward needed to use additional evidence to establish a causal connection between the two events. Mr. Ward could only produce evidence of a causal connection using surmise and conjecture, which was insufficient to be probative of retaliation, and a reasonable fact-finder could not infer retaliation from the decision to keep another employee in his job.

As to the second claim, the Tenth Circuit again found causation lacking in the failure to hire Mr. Ward for the Provo position. Mr. Ward would have had to prove retaliation through a “cat’s paw” theory, imputing the biased motive of a subordinate to the final decision-maker. Mr. Ward could not advance any evidence to show that the final decision-maker relied on information from subordinates. An initial panel recommended two candidates (Mr. Ward was not one of the two) to the final hiring agent, Mr. Walkoviak, but Mr. Walkoviak instead interviewed all five applicants for the Provo position and decided to hire an applicant based on his experience. The panel ultimately had little to no input on Mr. Walkoviak’s hiring decision, and the “cat’s paw” theory failed. Mr. Ward was unable to show any retaliation based on Mr. Walkoviak’s failure to hire him for the Provo position.

The Tenth Circuit found Mr. Ward unable to show discriminatory motive for either of the employment decisions, and affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Department.

Tenth Circuit: Discrimination Claims Time-Barred Under Federal Employee 45-Day EEO Charge Time Limit

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Green v. Donahoe on Monday, July 28, 2014.

Marvin Green worked for the postal service since 1973 and was the postmaster for Englewood, Colorado, from 2002 until his termination in 2010. At the time of the events leading to his termination, he had no disciplinary report in his permanent file. In early 2008, a postmaster position opened in Boulder, and Green applied for the position. He was not hired, and filed a complaint of racial discrimination with the Postal Service’s EEO Office. He requested a hearing with the EEOC and the matter eventually was settled.

In May 2009, Green filed an informal EEO charge alleging that his supervisor, Christ, had begun retaliating against him for his prior complaint of discrimination, saying that the supervisor intimidated, threatened, and harassed him. He filed a similar charge in July of that year, adding his new supervisor, Smith. The EEO Office informed Green that he could file a formal charge, but he did not do so.

In November 2009, Green received a letter from Charmaine Ehrenshaft, who was the Postal Service’s Manager of Labor Relations for his district, requiring him to appear for investigation of allegations of non-compliance regarding Green’s purported mishandling of the grievance procedure between April and December 2009, resulting in many adverse decisions against the Postal Service. Ehrenshaft and her supervisor, Knight, conducted the formal interview on December 11, 2009. Green was represented by Robert Podio of the National Association of Postmasters. Green was interrogated regarding processing of grievances, allegations that he had intentionally delayed the mail, and allegations of sexual harassment. After Ehrenshaft and Knight concluded their interview, Green was questioned by the Office of the Inspector General regarding federal mail fraud liability for intentionally delaying the mail.

After the OIG’s interview, Knight and Ehrenshaft reappeared and gave Green a letter informing him that he was placed on off-duty status immediately without pay due to the allegations. Unbeknownst to Green, after the interview, the OIG concluded that he had not engaged in wrongdoing. Podio began negotiating  with Knight to resolve the matter, and Knight insinuated that Green would be federally charged for delaying the mail. Green signed a settlement agreement, providing that he would give up his position as Englewood postmaster and would have until March 2010 to decide if he would retire or take a lesser position as postmaster in Wamsutter, Wyoming, for significantly less pay.

On January 7, 2010, Green met with an EEO counselor and filed an informal charge alleging retaliation regarding the December 11 interview. He filed the formal charge on February 17. The EEO Office dismissed the complaint because he had entered into a settlement agreement. On February 9, Green submitted retirement papers, effective March 31, 2010. On March 22, he initiated EEO counseling, alleging constructive discharge for his forced retirement. He followed up with another formal charge on April 23. The EEO Office accepted his charge on three grounds: (1) he was constructively discharged; (2) he was downgraded from a level 22 postmaster to a level 13 postmaster; and (3) his pay-for-performance salary increase was stopped. Green’s attorney advised the EEO Office to pursue only the first claim because the other two claims had been dismissed with the February 17 charge.

In September 2010, Green filed his complaint in this lawsuit. He amended his complaint in July 2011 to add five retaliatory acts in violation of Title VII: (1) the letter notifying him of the investigatory interview; (2) the investigatory interview; (3) the threat of criminal prosecution; (4) his constructive discharge; and (5) the emergency placement to Wyoming. The district court dismissed his first three claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court later found that Ehrenshaft had in bad faith destroyed records and as a sanction would inform the jury that it could infer pretext from the destruction. However, in February 2013, the district court granted summary judgment to defendants on the remaining charges, ruling that Green’s emergency placement was not an adverse action and his constructive discharge claim was time-barred. Green appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first looked at the different rules for Title VII complaints for federal employees, noting that employees have 45 days within which to contact an EEO officer within their agency, as opposed to the 180 days given to private sector employees to file a charge of discrimination. Employees must exhaust all administrative remedies before filing a formal complaint.

Green did not submit an EEO charge regarding his first three complaints until April 23, 2010. The basis of these complaints was the December 11, 2009 interview and investigation, so April 23 was well beyond the 45-day deadline. As for the constructive discharge claim, Green alleged that the 45 days did not begin until he decided whether to retire or move to Wyoming. However, the Tenth Circuit determined that the adverse employment action occurred in December 2009, so this claim was also time-barred.

The Tenth Circuit then turned to the emergency placement claim. The district court had determined that Green could not prove the emergency placement was materially adverse. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. Green had not known that the federal investigators decided not to charge him, and did not know he would be paid when he agreed to the settlement agreement. This was enough to constitute a materially adverse employment action.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the charges based on the investigative interview, the letter, the threat of criminal charges, and the constructive discharge. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment on the emergency placement claim, remanding for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Summary Judgment Appropriate Where No Employment Relationship Existed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Knitter v. Corvias Military Living, LLC on Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

Lisa Knitter worked as a handyman for Lewis General Contracting (LGC) from March to October 2010. During this time, LGC’s sole client was Corvias Military Living, formerly known as Picerne Military Housing (Picerne). Ms. Knitter performed handyman services solely on Picerne properties. Picerne properties were divided into neighborhoods, and each neighborhood had a neighborhood manager and a maintenance supervisor. Ms. Knitter worked on several Picerne neighborhoods, but had disputes with Picerne staff in three of the neighborhoods. Ms. Knitter called Mr. Lamb, the Assistant Director of Maintenance Operations for Picerne, to complain about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in one of the neighborhoods. After this phone call, Mr. Lamb contacted Mr. Lewis to request that Ms. Knitter no longer be assigned to do handyman work at Picerne. Because LGC had no work outside Picerne, Ms. Knitter was terminated.

Ms. Knitter sued Picerne under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq, alleging that she was paid lower wages than her male counterparts and she was fired in retaliation for her discrimination claims, and also that she was denied vendor status after her firing in retaliation for her prior complaints of discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to Picerne, finding that it was not Ms. Knitter’s employer, and dismissed her retaliation claims for the denial of vendor status because Ms. Knitter had never applied for employment with Picerne.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment and dismissal. It applied the joint employer test set forth in Bristol v. Board of County Commissioners, 312 F.3d 1213 (10th Cir. 2002), and found that at no time was Picerne Ms. Knitter’s employer. Because Picerne was not Ms. Knitter’s employer, her claims of gender discrimination and wrongful termination necessarily failed, since Title VII applies only to employers. The Tenth Circuit then examined Ms. Knitter’s claims that she was denied vendor status in retaliation for her discrimination claims. The Tenth Circuit determined that at no time did Ms. Knitter apply for employment with Picerne, so there could be no retaliation based on an employer-employee relationship. The district court’s grant of summary judgment was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: County Violated Title VII by Terminating Employee After He Helped Colleague Pursue Sexual Harassment Claim Against Employer

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Barrett v. Salt Lake County on Friday, June 13, 2014.

Michael Barrett was employed by Salt Lake County for 14 years, where he received promotions and favorable reviews until he helped a colleague pursue a sexual harassment claim against her boss. After he assisted his colleague, he was demoted by the county. He sued, alleging the county violated Title VII by retaliating against him, and the jury found for Mr. Barrett.

The county appealed, asserting that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that the case on which the county relied play no role in post-trial motions. The county also alleged that the jury instructions provided the wrong procedural framework for determining Title VII cases. However, the jury received instruction on the proper procedural framework and decided the case accordingly, so the county’s argument failed. The county also objected to another jury instruction, but this objection was not properly preserved at trial.

The county also disagreed with the district court’s award, not restoring Barrett to his former position since the position had been filled but instead restoring him to his prior level of pay. The county claimed that the result afforded Barrett a “windfall” for performing less work for more pay. However, the Tenth Circuit was unsympathetic to this argument, noting that the district court retains wide discretion in determining equitable relief.

The final argument raised by the county was that the district court’s award of attorney fees to Barrett for fees incurred during the internal grievance process was in error because it was an optional process, not a mandatory exhaustion of administrative remedies. On that limited point, the Tenth Circuit agreed. The Tenth Circuit remanded for redetermination of attorney fees and affirmed on all other points.

Tenth Circuit: In Sexual Harassment Case, Summary Judgment For County and Judge Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Eisenhour v. Weber County on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

Marcia Eisenhour worked for Weber County for 24 years, serving as the Court Administrator for the Weber County Justice Court under the direct supervision of Judge Storey. According to Ms. Eisenhour, Judge Storey began acting inappropriately toward Ms. Eisenhour in early 2008. He became “touchy” and would often stand so close to her that his groin rubbed against her. In addition to the touching, Judge Storey once told her that he had a dream about her in which she was naked. Ms. Eisenhour also found a poem by Judge Storey, which revealed his romantic feelings for her. According to Ms. Eisenhour, she was also subjected to unreasonable demands about her activities away from work.

The County launched an investigation, but ultimately decided not to discipline Judge Storey. The matter was later referred to Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which the Commission dismissed.

Between August and December 2009, the County Commissioners closed the Justice Court, which meant the loss of Ms. Eisenhour’s job. Ms. Eisenhour applied to the County for three vacant positions. Unsuccessful, she lost not only her job but also the potential for retirement benefits. She eventually spoke to the media about the Judicial Conduct Commission’s investigation of Judge Storey.

Marcia Eisenhour sued Weber County, three of its county commissioners, and Judge Storey. She claimed violations of Utah’s Whistleblower Act, the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, and Title VII. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all claims. Ms. Eisenhour appealed.

Ms. Eisenhour first challenged the district court’s exclusion of her testimony on disciplinary proceedings involving the judge. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The exclusion of Ms. Eisenhour’s testimony during the disciplinary proceedings involving Judge Storey was proper, since, under the applicable Utah statute, section 78A-11-112(1), testimony taken during the course of proceedings before the Judicial Conduct Commission cannot be introduced in a civil action.

Ms. Eisenhour asserted a claim under Title VII for retaliation. The district court held that it lacked jurisdiction over the claim because Ms. Eisenhour failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The Tenth Circuit agreed. Ms. Eisenhour filed an EEOC claim for sexual harassment, but this claim did not refer to any of the retaliatory acts underlying the eventual cause of action under Title VII. As a result, the court affirmed the award of summary judgment to the County on the Title VII retaliation claim.

Next, Ms. Eisenhour invoked the First Amendment, claiming that the County retaliated against her by closing the Justice Court when she spoke to the media about the Judicial Conduct Commission’s investigation of Judge Storey. The Tenth Circuit held that triable issues of fact existed and that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the County. When the court is faced with a First Amendment claim by a public employee, the district court must balance the First Amendment interests of that employee, speaking as a concerned citizen, with the government’s interests in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees. The Tenth Circuit held that her comments to the media involved protected speech and that she presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to infer that her comments were a motivating factor in the County’s decision to close the Court. The evidence also created a genuine issue of fact about the legitimacy of the County’s explanation for closing the Justice Court.

On the First Amendment claim for retaliation, Ms. Eisenhour also sued three county commissioners in their personal capacities. This claim was based on the Commissioners’ decision to close the Justice Court. Their motivation, according to Ms. Eisenhour, was to retaliate for her comments to the media. Like the County, the Commissioners argued that Ms. Eisenhour’s speech was not protected under the First Amendment and that the County closed the courthouse because of budgetary considerations rather than a retaliatory motive. As discussed above, these arguments involved factual issues turning on the resolution of conflicting evidence, thereby preventing summary judgment for the County.

Ms. Eisenhour further alleged that the County violated Utah’s Whistleblower Act, which prohibits government employers from retaliating against employees who report employer misconduct. According to Ms. Eisenhour, the County violated the state law by closing the Justice Court and refusing to hire her. Ms. Eisenhour waited more than 180 days from the alleged violation to assert a Whistleblower Act claim, so this claim was time-barred. However, for her claim relating to the closing of the court, the claim did relate back to the original filing, so it was not time-barred.

Ms. Eisenhour argued that the County deprived her of a property interest in her job without due process of law. The district court held that Ms. Eisenhour had failed to establish a protected property interest. The Tenth Circuit agreed. For purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, property interests must derive from some independent source, such as state law, contract, or other understandings that give rise to a claim of entitlement. However, her employment was at-will. And at-will employees lack a property interest in continued employment.

Ms. Eisenhour asserted that the County violated her right to equal protection, and the district court granted summary judgment to the County on the ground that Judge Storey was not an official policymaker. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision. A municipality can be liable under Section 1983 for the acts of a municipal official only when the official possesses final policymaking authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the acts in question.

Judge Storey lacked policymaking authority to touch Ms. Eisenhour inappropriately under the County’s sexual harassment policy. Further, his monitoring of her whereabouts (when missing work) did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. As a result, the County was entitled to summary judgment on the equal-protection claim.

Ms. Eisenhour further asserted an equal-protection claim against Judge Storey. The district court concluded that Judge Storey was entitled to qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Judge Storey, concluding that he was not entitled to qualified immunity and that there was a fact-issue about whether Judge Storey inappropriately touched Ms. Eisenhour.

To overcome a defense of qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the defendant’s conduct violated the law, and (2) the law was clearly established when the violation occurred. The Tenth Circuit held that Ms. Eisenhour made the threshold showing and that issues of fact precluded summary judgment.

For the reasons stated above, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the award of summary judgment on Ms. Eisenhour’s claims against the County under the: (1) Whistleblower Act for a refusal to rehire her, (2) Title VII, and (3) § 1983 based on a deprivation of due process and denial of equal protection. The court also held that the district court properly excluded Ms. Eisenhour’s testimony taken during the judicial-misconduct investigation. But the court agreed with Ms. Eisenhour that genuine issues of fact precluded summary judgment on: (1) her § 1983 claim against the County and the County Commissioners based on the First Amendment, (2) the Whistleblower Act claim against the County based on the court closing, and (3) the § 1983 claim against Judge Storey based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Accordingly, the case was REMANDED to the district court with instructions to VACATE the award of summary judgment on these claims.

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Defendant Craig Storey requested rehearing, arguing in part: (1) The panel opinion erroneously relied in part on sworn testimony before the Judicial Conduct Commission even though the testimony was deemed inadmissible; and (2) the evidence did not support Ms. Eisenhour’s claim that Defendant Storey knowingly and intentionally committed sexual harassment by telling her about a dream. On these issues, Defendant Storey also requested en banc consideration. In addition, he sought en banc consideration on the issue of qualified immunity.

The panel granted rehearing on the first issue, which involved reliance on the Commission testimony by Ms. Eisenhour. The remainder of the petition for panel rehearing was denied. In light of the partial grant of the petition, however, the panel vacated the opinion issued on December 31, 2013. The clerk was directed to substitute the amended decision above and to file it contemporaneously with this order.

Tenth Circuit: In Sex Discrimination Case, Genuine Issues of Fact Existed as to Plaintiff’s Title VII Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Kramer v. Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.

Camille Kramer worked for the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Department from 2005 to 2007. During that time, she was the victim of repeated sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape at the hands of Sergeant Rick Benson.

Ms. Kramer sued Wasatch County, alleging that the sexual harassment she experienced at the hands of Sergeant Benson constituted sex discrimination prohibited by both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and the Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court granted summary judgment to Wasatch County. The court held that Sergeant Benson was not Ms. Kramer’s supervisor for Title VII purposes because he did not have the actual authority to unilaterally fire her. It further held that supervisor status could not be premised on apparent authority because no reasonable juror could find Ms. Kramer reasonable in believing Sergeant Benson had the power to fire her. Even assuming Sergeant Benson was Ms. Kramer’s supervisor, the court concluded that Wasatch County was not vicariously liable for his conduct because Ms. Kramer suffered no tangible employment action and, alternatively, because Wasatch County was entitled to prevail on its Faragher/Ellerth affirmative  defense as a matter of law.

Finally, the district court held that Wasatch County was not negligent and thus could not be liable for Sergeant Benson’s harassment under co-worker harassment standards. As to Ms. Kramer’s § 1983 claims, the court determined that Sheriff Van Wagoner was entitled to qualified immunity, and that the County was not liable because it had no pattern, practice, or custom of illegal sex discrimination. Ms. Kramer appealed on all claims.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII. In general, an employer is directly liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment if the employer was negligent with respect to the offensive behavior. If the harasser is a supervisor rather than merely a co-worker, however, the employer may be vicariously liable for the conduct, depending on the circumstances.  If the supervisor’s harassment culminates in a “tangible employment action,” the employer is strictly liable for sex discrimination, with no defense. If no tangible employment action occurs, the employer may still be vicariously liable for the supervisor’s harassment if the plaintiff proves the harassment was severe or pervasive, and the employer is unable to establish the affirmative defense announced in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 807 (1998), and Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998). For these reasons, whether the harasser was a “supervisor” within the meaning of Title VII is a critical threshold question in determining whether the employer can be held vicariously liable for the harassment.

The United States Supreme Court has held that a “supervisor” under Title VII is an employee whom the employer has empowered to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits. Importantly, however, an employee need not be empowered to take such tangible employment actions directly to qualify as a supervisor. A manager who works closely with his or her subordinates and who has the power to recommend or otherwise substantially influence tangible employment actions, and who can thus indirectly effectuate them, also qualifies as a “supervisor” under Title VII.

Sergeant Benson was Ms. Kramer’s direct supervisor. He completed her performance evaluations and made recommendations regarding her employment status. The record established that Ms. Kramer raised a genuine issue of fact as to whether the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Department effectively delegated to Sergeant Benson the power to cause tangible employment actions regarding Ms. Kramer by providing for reliance on recommendations from sergeants such as Benson when making decisions regarding firing, promotion, demotion, and reassignment.

Even if it was determined that Sergeant Benson lacked the actual supervisory authority described above, he could still qualify as a supervisor under apparent authority principles. In the usual case, a supervisor’s harassment involves misuse of actual power, not the false impression of its existence. But in the unusual case, apparent authority can suffice to make the harasser a supervisor for Title VII purposes, so long as the victim’s mistaken conclusion is a reasonable one. Under the circumstances here, given the County’s and the Sheriff’s manuals, there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether Ms. Kramer was reasonable in believing that Sergeant Benson had additional powers – such as the power to transfer, discipline, demote, or fire her. A jury was especially likely to conclude such beliefs were reasonable because Sergeant Benson repeatedly told Ms. Kramer he did in fact possess such powers.

If Sergeant Benson was a supervisor, Wasatch County would be strictly liable for his harassment of Ms. Kramer if it culminated in a tangible employment action. However, the Tenth Circuit held that none of the following actions constituted tangible employment actions: (1) the rape; (2) the bad performance evaluation that was never submitted; (3) Sergeant Benson denying her vacation days; and (4) Sergeant Benson refusing to give her road training and assigning her to the magnetometer full-time. The Tenth Circuit held that no tangible employment action occurred. Because these actions did not constitute “tangible employment action,” the County could not be held strictly liable for sex discrimination.

Even absent a tangible employment action, if Sergeant Benson qualified as a supervisor, the County could be vicariously liable for his severe or pervasive sexual harassment unless it could establish the affirmative defense announced in Faragher and Ellerth. This defense has two elements: (a) that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior, and (b) that the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.

The Tenth Circuit held that Wasatch County did not support its summary judgment motion with evidence that entitled it to judgment as a matter of law under either of the affirmative defense’s two prongs. Wasatch County’s evidence did not establish as a matter of law that the County took reasonable means to prevent and promptly correct sexual harassment. The County did not provide any evidence that the Sheriff Department’s interventions were reasonably calculated to end the harassment, deter future harassers, or protect Ms. Kramer. Not only did the investigation here fail to demonstrate that the County employed reasonable means to discharge its Title VII obligations, the Sheriff’s response to Ms. Kramer’s allegations suggested that he did not understand he had a Title VII compliance matter on his hands. There was no evidence the Department sought to improve its sexual harassment prevention program or otherwise reduce the risk of future harassment. On this record, there remained a genuine issue of fact as to whether the County’s response to Ms. Kramer’s sexual harassment complaint fell short of demonstrating that the County took reasonable efforts to discharge its duty under Title VII, as required to establish the affirmative defense.

Under prong two of the affirmative defense, Wasatch County’s evidence did not compel the conclusion that Ms. Kramer was unreasonable. Ms. Kramer did not lodge a formal complaint. However, she testified that on numerous occasions Sergeant Benson sexually assaulted her and subsequently told her to “be quiet” and “not say anything” or it would be “a career ender.” Sergeant Benson also threatened Ms. Kramer with a poor evaluation unless she would keep her mouth shut and not say anything. The court concluded that the record demonstrated a persistent theme: Sergeant Benson was an intimidating person with job-related power over Ms. Kramer who would sexually harass her and then threaten that she would lose her job if she complained.

Ms. Kramer’s fear that Sergeant Benson would make good on his threats was not per se unreasonable given that he did in fact take adverse job actions against her at work – denying her leave time, threatening her with a bad performance evaluation, and giving her long shifts on the magnetometer. Even if these actions did not rise to the level of a tangible employment action, a reasonable employee could well find a combination of threats and actions taken with the design of imposing both economic and psychological harm sufficient to dissuade him or her from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. This evidence raised a genuine issue of fact as to whether Ms. Kramer’s fears of Sergeant Benson were credible and reasonable because they were grounded in concrete reasons to apprehend that complaint would result in affirmative harm to the complainant.

Taken together, the evidence was also sufficient to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether Ms. Kramer was reasonable in believing it would be futile and potentially detrimental to herself to complain. Accepting Ms. Kramer’s version of the facts, a picture emerged in which Sergeant Benson used his job-related power over Ms. Kramer to compel, pressure, or coerce her to do his bidding. While Ms. Kramer technically could have avoided some of the encounters, the record did not establish that she could have done so without incurring some form of adverse employment action.

Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit reversed summary judgment for Wasatch County on both prongs of the Faragher/Ellerth defense.

However, the court affirmed the district court’s holding that the County’s liability could not be premised on negligence. The record evidence viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. Kramer failed to support an inference that the County had actual or constructive knowledge of Sergeant Benson’s sexual harassment before Ms. Kramer’s car accident.

Finally, the County was not liable for sex discrimination under § 1983. As to institutional liability under § 1983, the County could only be liable for the actions of Sergeant Benson if it had a custom, practice, or policy that encouraged or condoned the unconstitutional behavior – here, workplace sexual harassment. Kramer had to demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights, and she had to show that the municipal action was taken with deliberate indifference to its known or obvious consequences. Ms. Kramer had to establish that the County failed to prevent sexual harassment with deliberate indifference, that the need for more or different action was so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need. The court held that, on the record in this case, no reasonable jury could find that the risk of sergeants sexually assaulting their subordinates was “so obvious” the County’s policymakers should have known about it.

The Tenth Circuit therefore AFFIRMED summary judgment as to the § 1983 claim, but REVERSED on the Title VII claim, which the court REMANDED for trial.