By Victoria Moran, J.D.
A supervisor’s request to get drinks after work, when viewed in context of an employee’s refusal of his invitation and her subsequent suspension and termination, was sufficient to support her quid pro quo sexual harassment claim.
A federal court in Colorado refused to dismiss an employee’s allegations of wrongful termination based on sex and quid pro quo sexual harassment related to alleged conduct by her direct supervisor. Citing the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Fort Bend Cty., Texas v. Davis for the proposition that Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is not jurisdictional, the court, after taking judicial notice of the EEOC charge, concluded that the document contained sufficient allegations to support a claim for gender discrimination. While the employee’s allegations could have been more explicit, the allegations that she declined the supervisor’s invitation to get drinks and was later terminated were sufficient to support her discrimination claim. In addition, despite the employer’s contention the invitations were social in nature, the employee’s allegations connected her denial of the supervisor’s invitations to her termination (Ingle v. Ieros, LLC dba Life Flowers Dispensary, June 13, 2019, Babcock, L.).
The employee, an assistant manager, received two separate invitations from her direct supervisor (who was also the general manager) to a “pool day” and for drinks; she considered the requests to be invitations for a romantic date and declined both invitations. Sometime between the first and second invitation, the supervisor learned the employee was dating a male coworker and he eventually terminated the male coworker. After the employee declined the supervisor’s second invitation for a date, the supervisor suspended and then terminated her.
Employee exhausted her administrative remedies. The employer first argued that the employee did not reference her EEOC charge in the complaint and, alternatively, that the EEOC charge did not properly assert a claim for gender discrimination. Reflecting on the recent Supreme Court decision in Fort Bend, the district court noted that Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is not jurisdictional and the distinction between a jurisdictional requirement and affirmative defense was not at issue in this case since the employer did not waive or forfeit this argument. In considering the motion to dismiss based on an affirmative defense, the court took judicial notice of the EEOC charging document and concluded the charge contained sufficient facts to support a claim for gender discrimination.
The charge stated that the employee was subjected to discrimination based on her sex and the box labeled “sex” was checked to describe the alleged discrimination, indicating she was pursuing a sex discrimination claim. Further, the charge stated that the supervisor “would regularly subject [the employee] to sexual advances,” which was sufficient to put the employer on notice of the alleged violation. In sum, the employee exhausted her administrative remedies and the motion to dismiss was denied with respect to this argument.
Plausible claim for gender discrimination. The court was unpersuaded by the employer’s arguments that the employee only recited the elements in her gender discrimination claim and that the claim was merely duplicative of the quid pro quo harassment claim. Rather, upon review of the employee’s allegations, the court concluded she stated a claim for gender discrimination. The supervisor invited the employee to a social gathering, which she declined. Then the supervisor suspended and terminated a male colleague who was in a relationship with the female employee. After the female employee declined a second invitation from the supervisor, she was suspended and terminated. The court admitted that the employee’s allegations could have been more explicit; however, the allegations implied a sexual advance based on gender.
Plausible claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment. The employer attempted to frame the supervisor’s invitations as “social” but the court determined that when taken in context, the invitation to get drinks raised allegations that the request was sexual in nature and the employee established a sufficient connection between her termination and her denial of the supervisor’s request—the employee’s employment was conditioned on accepting his request for drinks. The court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss.
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