Federal Court Rules on AAUW-Supported Sexual Harassment CaseMay 12, 2011
Recently, the Fourth Circuit federal court ruled in favor of Lynette Harris, an electrician with the city of Baltimore, who had sued the city for sexual harassment and discrimination after being subjected to a hostile work environment with sexually explicit pictures and offensive language. Harris was also repeatedly passed over for promotion. AAUW signed an amicus brief supporting Harris in her case, Harris v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.
Harris has worked as an electrician for Baltimore since 1988. In 2004, after twice applying for and not receiving a promotion, she was reassigned to the city’s electrical motor shop. According to Harris and other witnesses, the shop environment was hostile toward women, with sexually explicit pictures openly displayed and demeaning language routinely used. After numerous complaints, Harris was transferred to another department in 2005. In 2006, she filed suit against Baltimore, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. In 2008, the case went to trial, and the district court made a summary judgment in favor of Baltimore and dismissed Harris’s suit.
Following the dismissal of her case, Harris appealed to the federal circuit court, which found that the original court erred when it sided with the city, as the circuit court found sufficient evidence of sexual harassment against Harris. This ruling allows Harris to continue her case against Baltimore for sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the decision was not a total victory for Harris, as the circuit court dismissed her discrimination claim against the city for twice failing to promote her.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the employment context, it is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates a hostile or intimidating work environment.
AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund provides support to lawsuits that combat sex discrimination in education and the workplace, and that have the potential to make a difference for all women. To find more information, including legal resources on sex discrimination topics, visit the LAF website.