What Happens if You are Fired for Complaining About Sexual Harassment?

Many people are afraid to come forward with sexual harassment allegations because they fear complaining will just make the problem worse. Indeed, there are many situations in which an employer responds to legitimate harassment complaints by blaming–and even firing–the victim. Such actions are illegal in and of themselves, however, as they constitute “retaliation” against a person who has done nothing more than exercise his or her legal right to demand a discrimination-free workplace.

Judge Allows Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against SUNY-Stony Brook to Proceed

Recently, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that a former employee at the State University of New York at Stony Brook could proceed with a gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation lawsuit against the school. SUNY moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to establish her case. In denying this motion, the judge did not rule on the merits of the plaintiff's complaint, only that she could proceed to a jury trial.

Here is some background on the case. The plaintiff worked as a horticulturist technician at SUNY, which is classified as a civil service position. After completing a one-year probationary period, she received a one-year appointment to a managerial position. According to the plaintiff, after her promotion her relationship with a supervisor “began to deteriorate.” The plaintiff alleged the supervisor referred to her using expletives and engaged in acts of physical harassment, such as “knock[ing] her down by intentionally bumping into her as he was leaving a room.”

The plaintiff said she filed numerous complaints with university administrators. After the plaintiff returned to work from medical leave, she said “her office had been located to a former storage area with no windows or locks and no working desk, with some of her personal items missing, including the notebook in which she kept a record of [the supervisor's] behavior.” The university later issued a “written counseling memorandum” disciplining the plaintiff, which led the school to not renew her one-year appointment.

In effect, SUNY argued it lawfully terminated the plaintiff for “poor performance.” As the judge explained, the plaintiff's “decline” in job performance “must be viewed in light of the evidence as a whole.” That is to say, a jury could side with the plaintiff and decide the bad performance evaluation was merely a “pretext” to discriminate against the plaintiff based on her gender.

Similarly, the judge said the plaintiff's multiple allegations of incidents involving her former supervisor and mistreatment could support a finding of sexual harassment. It also supported her case for retaliation; after all, she was fired after filing a formal complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, which suggested a “causal relationship” between the two events.

Speak with a New York Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today

It is good idea to document any possible acts of sexual harassment on the job. Such information can be helpful later in building a legal case should you experience further harassment or retaliation. A qualified New York City employment attorney can advise you further. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar if you need assistance today.