Labor Rights

Employers to be Held Accountable For Workplace Sexual Rumors

Last Friday, the Fourth Circuit of Appeals unanimously reversed a district court’s ruling on Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc.; the panel explained that the rumors involving a female employee having sexual relations with her male boss to obtain a promotion or special treatment make her employer liable under the Title VII for sex discrimination.

The Fourth Circuit reversed the ruling by recognizing that “Parker, a female subordinate, had sex with her male superior to obtain promotion, implying that Parker used her womanhood, rather than her merit, to obtain from a man, so seduced, a promotion.  She plausibly invokes a deeply rooted perception – one that unfortunately still persists – that generally women, not men, use sex to achieve success.”  This assumption reinforces the belief that women can only be successful through sexual behavior, rather than merit and hard work. The Fourth Circuit agreed that Parker’s sexual harassment claim is appropriate to litigate because this behavior along with male management caused Parker to face wrongful consequences.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) served as an advisor to the court, leading an amicus brief in this case alongside the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP (BSF). Together, they called attention to how harmful the sex stereotypes that took place represent sexual harassment under federal law, in addition to the harmful rumors. NWLC, with the support of 43 organizational sign-ons, successfully convinced the Fourth Circuit to reverse the federal district court’s opinion, which inappropriately dismissed the case.

Evangline Parker sued for sex discrimination, and a variety of Title VII claims. Rumors suggested that Parker slept her way to the top rather than earned her position, as she got promoted six times since she worked with Reema from December 14 through May 2016. At her workplace, she was treated with hostility and was barred from advancing her career further within the company. The trial court dismissed her claims because they determined the sexual harassment was based on false allegations of conduct rather than based upon her gender.


Media Resources: National Women’s Law Center 2/12/19; Kollman Law 2/12/19

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