Supreme Court Hears Harassment CaseOctober 09, 2008
Monday marked the first day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new term. During this term, the court will hear cases covering a number of important issues, including employment discrimination, free speech, Title IX, voting rights, and access to the courts.
Yesterday the court heard the oral arguments for a significant sexual harassment case, Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Vicky Crawford, an employee of the Nashville Metro School District, was asked by her employers to cooperate with an internal investigation of sexual harassment allegations made against her boss. Crawford was later fired and believes she was terminated in retaliation for substantiating the sexual harassment allegations under investigation. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains an anti-retaliation provision, two lower courts narrowly interpreted the law and found that an internal investigation is not protected by Title VII. If this ruling is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, it will set a bad precedent, creating a gaping hole in Title VII’s coverage. While all employees will be harmed, women will be particularly at risk because the decision’s greatest impact will be on sexual harassment cases.
AAUW signed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of the plaintiff in March 2008. The brief presents social science research that demonstrates that psychological and social factors pressure victims of sexual harassment to discount and remain silent about the discrimination. Denying protection against retaliation will make it even more difficult for women to tell their employers about harassment, hindering the discovery and elimination of sex discrimination and compounding the harm to victims of harassment. AAUW will be watching the case deliberations carefully.
Many recent Supreme Court cases have been decided by 5-4 rulings, reiterating the importance of each high court justice and of those officials elected to nominate and confirm the justices. AAUW’s presidential and vice presidential voter guides lists the candidates’ stances on federal judicial nominations. The confirmation of extremist, activist judges to the federal bench undermines a fair and balanced judiciary and could turn back the clock on decades of progress for women and girls. You can read AAUW’s position paper on federal judicial nominations and visit AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund Resource Library for more information.
Which cases are you following closely this term?