Daily Labor Report® is the objective resource the nation’s foremost labor and employment professionals read and rely on, providing reliable, analytical coverage of top labor and employment...
July 23 --Five white officers for a New York sheriff's department were subjected to adverse action when officials threatened them with discipline for filing allegedly false racial harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but still can't proceed to trial on their federal and state law retaliation claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled July 23.
The Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment to the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department on the officer's claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the New York State Human Rights Law, finding that the department produced a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the threat.
For example, the court said the department offered evidence that the white officers gave materially inconsistent statements to an internal investigation unit and the EEOC about a black officer accusing them of being members of a “skinhead” racial supremacy group. Their own purportedly false complaints could in turn be viewed as racial harassment of the black officer, the court said.
The white officers presented no evidence to rebut the department's reason as pretextual, the court said. It also rejected the officers' separate claim that the department's internal investigation of their complaints was a retaliatory adverse action.
Judge Ralph K. Winter wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Denny Chin and Christopher F. Droney.
According to the Second Circuit, Title VII's language doesn't suggest that an “absolute privilege” immunizes employees who knowingly file false bias charges with the EEOC.
“However, the fact that false charges before the EEOC are not permitted does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the employers targeted by such charges are entitled to respond with disciplinary action against the filing employee,” the court said.
A threat of disciplinary action triggered by the submission of EEOC charges “would often--even usually--be a deterrent to reasonable employees making or supporting discrimination claims,” the court said.
As such, the threat itself may be an adverse action for Title VII retaliation purposes, as it was in the present case in which the officers filed racial harassment charges with the EEOC and were later told--as part of a continuing internal investigation on their claims--that they could be disciplined for submitting false charges, the court said.
However, the sheriff's department proffered a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the threat, namely that the record shows that the officers' own racial harassment claims were “false and seemingly intentionally so,” the court said.
During the initial internal investigation of their claims, the courtsaid, the white officers had told officials that a black officer only inquired about why they had shaved their heads, which they had done in support of another officer with cancer. However, in their subsequent EEOC charges, the white officers stated under oath that a black officer accused them of being skinheads, the court said.
“Employers are under an independent duty to investigate and curb racial harassment by lower level employees of which they are aware,” the court said. “It would therefore be anomalous to conclude that an employer is not allowed to investigate, with a view to discipline, false complaints of harassment that themselves might be viewed as intended as racial harassment.”
Meanwhile, the officers failed to show that the department's stated reason was pretextual, the court said.
The officers “have presented no evidence that the warning about disciplinary action was intended to retaliate for any reason other than the apparent falsity of their EEOC charges and the complex circumstances those false charges created.”
The court also found that the department's investigation itself was not a retaliatory adverse action.
It was not “carried out so as to result in a hostile work environment, constructive discharge, or other employment consequences of a negative nature,” or “conducted in such an egregious manner as to 'dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,' ” the court said.
The Bosman Law Office represented the officers. The Onondaga County Department of Law represented the sheriff's department.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at firstname.lastname@example.org
Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Cox_v_Onondaga_County_Sheriffs_Depa_Docket_No_1201526_2d_Cir_Apr_.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)