Appeal Filed in Important Title VII Sex Discrimination/Retaliation Case

I recently filed a brief with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of my client, who was fired from her job as a first line manager at a District of Columbia area restaurant chain for telling top company management that one of her subordinates at the company had reported to her that she had been offered a raise by a senior manager in exchange for sex.  In my view this case has substantial implications for the effective enforcement of federal statutes that bar discrimination based on race, sex or national origin.  The case is Villa v. Cavamezze Grill LLC, No. 15-2543.

Disclaimer

I recently filed a brief with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of my client, who was fired from her job as a first line manager at a District of Columbia area restaurant chain for telling top company management that one of her subordinates at the company had reported to her that she had been offered a raise by a senior manager in exchange for sex.  In my view this case has substantial implications for the effective enforcement of federal statutes that bar discrimination based on race, sex or national origin.  The case is Villa v. Cavamezze Grill LLC, No. 15-2543.

My client’s employer said it fired my client because it supposedly thought she made up the sex for a raise report.  But the employer did little to investigate the report and witness testimony during the course of the case made it clear that my client was telling the truth.

An employee who makes a report of sexual harassment or discrimination is normally protected from being fired or from other retaliation by the antiretaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Nevertheless, late last year Judge Ellis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed my client’s case on summary judgment because he felt that, as long as the employer honestly believed that my client was lying, it was entitled to fire her, even if that belief was not reasonable.  According to Judge Ellis my client was not fired for reporting discrimination, which would clearly be illegal, but for making a false report.  In his view the facts that my client was actually telling the truth and that the employer did not effectively investigate her report were of little relevance.

We argue to the Court of Appeals that Title VII’s prohibition on retaliation for reporting discrimination or harassment would be gravely weakened if an employer can unilaterally decide that the reporting employee is lying and then fire that employee on the supposed grounds that the employee is lying.  If the district court’s reasoning is upheld employees will be much more reluctant to report discrimination by senior company officials, knowing that their report could be labeled false and that they could then, like my client, be fired for filing a false report.

Hopefully the Court of Appeals will correct what I think was a significant error in interpreting the law by the district court.  Our brief in the case is here and the joint appendix, which contains the relevant factual background documents brought to the attention of the Fourth Circuit, is available here.

The Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, one of the Washington, D.C. region’s most respected providers of legal services to the poor and disadvantaged, is my cocounsel in this case.