Flirtatious Lumberjack Stagehand Loses Retaliation Bid

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By Jon Steingart

Sept. 30 — A stagehand for a lumberjack competition performance can’t show the troupe’s decision to move her to a box office position was retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled ( Pittington v. Great Smoky Mountain Lumberjack Feud, LLC , 2016 BL 322735, E.D. Tenn., No. 3:14-cv-466, 9/29/16 ).

Great Smoky Mountain Lumberjack Feud LLC’s investigation found support for Pamela Pittington’s charge that a manager engaged in unwanted sexual dialogue and touching with her and female co-workers. The investigation also found that Pittington engaged in heavy flirtation with performers that made some uncomfortable. After she complained about the conduct, she was transferred from the performance space to the box office.

Taking an adverse action against someone for complaining about sexual harassment is prohibited, but whether an action is adverse isn’t measured solely by the reaction of the person it’s levied against. Although Pittington objected to the transfer, it wasn’t an adverse action within the meaning of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because she would have continued to have the same rate of pay and the same hours in the box office as she had in the performance arena, Judge Pamela L. Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee said Sept. 29.

Reputation for Flirtation

During a pre-performance setup period, Pittington responded to a colleague’s question about hot dogs by saying they were “hot and hard, just the way I like them.” In another situation when a lumberjack ripped his pants, Pittington grabbed the tear and told the performer she could sew it for him.

The lumberjack show conceded that Pittington’s complaint about the manager was protected activity. It contended that its decision to transfer her to the box office was related to her conduct toward the performers, rather than her report about the supervisor.

The performance’s effort to retain Pittington in a different area of the workplace rather than terminate her for inappropriate conduct couldn’t be seen as an adverse action, Reeves said. It was a sign the troupe wanted to please everyone.

Jesse Nelson and Kayla Towe of the Nelson Law Firm in Knoxville, Tenn. represented Pittington. Al Holifield and Christina Haley of Holifield Janich & Associates, PLLC in Knoxville, Tenn., represented the lumberjack show.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

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