Stephenson & Murphy Client Prevails in Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

Tamika Ray, a third-shift bander operator for International Paper in Laurens, had her sexual harassment and retaliation claims restored by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in a unanimous and published decision.

Ray’s claims had been dismissed by the District Court for reasons that we respectfully believed did not appropriately credit her evidence.  The Fourth Circuit agreed with our position and issued a published (precedential) decision vacating the dismissal.

The Court agreed with our position that even a temporary diminution in overtime pay may constitute a tangible employment action that deprives the employer of its ability to assert the Ellerth-Faragher defense.  This is significant because, without the defense, employers are strictly liable for unlawful harassment committed by supervisors and managers.

Much of the argument on appeal centered on the alleged harasser’s motive, and whether it was attributable to the harassment or the retaliation claim.  The Fourth Circuit reaffirmed the proposition that summary judgment is not appropriate where the decision-maker’s state of mind is a decisive element of a claim.

This decision is an important reaffirmation of the principle that juries should resolve significant disputes such as a decision-maker’s motive.  The decision also recognizes the serious implications for employees when they face adverse decisions for standing up for themselves.

Ms. Ray’s claims will now proceed to trial where a jury can address her claims.