Monday, August 25, 2014

Employee Can Sue For Harassment Despite Three Year Gap

A three year gap in an employee's complaint and a subsequent negative employment action does not automatically preclude a finding of causation according to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  An employee can use events that have fallen outside of the statute of limitations as evidence to establish a pattern of retaliation the Court held,  in reversing the district court’s award of summary judgment in Malin v. Hospira, Inc., No. 13-2433 (7th Cir. August 7, 2014)..

Plaintiff, Malin, began working for Abbott Laboratories’ Information Technology (IT) department in April 1996.  In 2003 she complained of workplace sexual harassment.  Immediately prior to the filing of the harassment claim, Malin’s ultimate supervisor, Carlin, was informed of Malin’s intent on filing the complaint.  According to Malin, Carlin became angry and attempted to prevent her from filing the harassment claim with the Human Resources Department.  In 2004, both Malin and Carlin were among the transferees who moved to Hospira, a spin-off of Abbott.  Carlin remained as Malin’s ultimate supervisor and his approval was necessary for all promotions. Despite Malin’s promotions prior to her sexual harassment complaint and excellent performance reviews, she was denied several promotions and pay grade increases between 2003 through 2006.  Later in 2006, Hospira underwent reorganization and Malin was both denied promotion and effectively demoted.  Malin claimed that Hospira’s failure to promote her and its decision to demote her in 2006 was in retaliation to a sexual harassment claim she filed against another Abbott employee back in 2003.  

The district court concluded the three year gap between the harassment claim and alleged retaliation was too long of time period to prove causation and barred the claim as a matter of law.  On appeal, the Court stated that, “[t]he mere passage of time is not legally conclusive proof against retaliation,” and that the plaintiff showed evidence of a pattern of retaliation that bridged the 2003 harassment complaint to the 2006 demotion. The Court reasoned that this pattern “support[s] the inference that Carlin did not forget about Malin’s 2003 complaint to Human Resources but effectively froze Malin out of any promotions at Abbott and then Hospira after she filed the complaint over his strong objection.”