Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

A.L.P. Inc. v. Bureau of Labor & Indus. Oregon Court of Appeals (1999)

Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Here, petitioner, a male employer, sought review of a final order of the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, which found petitioner had created an intimidating, hostile and offensive working environment based on respondent’s gender, in violation of Or. Rev. Stat. § 659.030(1), which provides, “(1) [i]t is an unlawful employment practice: (B) [f]or an employer, because of an individual's . . .  sex . . . to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.”  The statute does not require that the unlawful employment practice be “sexual” in nature to be actionable.  It requires only that the practice have occurred “because of” the employee’s sex.  Furthermore, no independent corroboration of a complaining witness is required to establish an unlawful employment practice claim. Petitioner, the owner of a store selling adult toys and gifts, only referred to his employee, respondent Theresa Getman, using derogatory terms.  Petitioner also frequently passed derogatory comments on the appearance of female customers and directed a number of sexually inappropriate remarks towards Getman.  Additionally, petitioner frequently threatened Getman that he was going to “bitch slap” her and on several occasions slapped Getman on the top of her head and across her face.  Throughout the duration of the employment, Getman was physically ill. She had a stomach ache and found herself unable to sleep because of the stress.  The appellate court affirmed the finding that respondent was the victim of gender discrimination in her employment, as there was substantial evidence to support the finding that all of petitioner’s offensive conduct had occurred because respondent was a woman.



Kopenga v. Davric Maine Corp. Maine Supreme Court (1999)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff applied for a job to work at the defendant’s race track as a security officer. The defendant’s director of security informed the plaintiff that he normally did not hire women and instead employed her in the dispatch hour to answer telephones and complete paper work. The plaintiff had a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and experience in security work. The plaintiff subsequently requested to work the late night security shift at the stable gate to work additional hours. Her request was denied as the director did not hire women for this position. When the general manager learned of the incident, he informed the director that he violated company policy and directed him to change his discriminatory practices. Ultimately, the plaintiff left the company due to disputes over her work assignments and she filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission and sued the defendant. The trial court determined that but for the director’s gender discrimination, the plaintiff could have worked an additional sixteen hours each week for thirty-three weeks and that she would have earned overtime. The Supreme Court of Maine held that the plaintiff was entitled to back pay for these lost wages under 5 M.R.S.A. § 4613.



Schneider v. Plymouth State College New Hampshire Supreme Court (1999)

Sexual harassment

Here, the plaintiff was a student at the defendant-college. The plaintiff took a course with a professor, had a positive experience and ultimately majored in the subject of the class. The professor became the plaintiff’s academic advisor. Subsequently, the professor began to sexually harass the plaintiff. When the plaintiff refused the professor’s advances, he grew angry and threatened to make her life very difficult. He withheld academic support for her and ridiculed her in front of faculty. He also gave her a poor mark for her work as an intern without ever consulting the supervisor at the company. The plaintiff reported the harassment to faculty members (to a professor and the dean of the college). The plaintiff also reported the harassment in a paper to a professor, but no action was taken in response. The plaintiff eventually spoke with another professor about the harassment but wished to remain anonymous for fear of worse treatment by the professor. That professor then told the chair of the college’s art department. Further, more students had reported the harassment of the plaintiff. Action was not taken against the professor though because the plaintiff wished to remain anonymous and the school would not act without a “firsthand account.” After the plaintiff graduated, she wrote to the dean who was acting as interim president of the school that she was harassed as a student. The professor was then dismissed on the ground of moral delinquency. The plaintiff then sued the defendant for vicarious liability for the professor’s sexual harassment. She also claimed breach of fiduciary duty. The court found that there was a fiduciary relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant; the plaintiff depended on the defendant for her education and relied upon the defendant to adopt and enforce practices to minimize danger that students will be exposed to sexual harassment. The court did not analyze the school’s liability under the hostile environment theory as it found the school guilty of a breach of fiduciary duty. Thus, in an academic setting, a plaintiff may be entitled to relief for harassment under a breach of fiduciary duty in addition to the usual hostile environment claims.


Weiand v. State Florida Supreme Court (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

n the midst of an abusive marriage, Weiand shot her husband in self-defense. A jury found Weiand guilty of second-degree murder. Weiand appealed, claiming the court had erred by failing to instruct the jury that the duty to retreat did not apply where Weiand was attacked in her own home. Florida law provides that a person may use deadly force in self-defense if she reasonably believes it necessary to prevent imminent death or severe bodily harm. A person is not entitled to use such deadly force in self-defense, where she may safely retreat from harm. The duty to retreat does not apply when an attack takes place in one’s own home. In reversing the conviction, the Court clarified that Weiand was not required to retreat merely because her attacker was a co-occupant of the home. Specifically, the Court explained that increased understanding of domestic violence and its effect on women provided strong policy reasons for not imposing a duty to retreat from the home where deadly force is used against a co-occupant. In fact, the Court relied heavily on policy reasons regarding domestic violence victims in reaching its decision, explaining that a contrary decision would have a damaging effect on women, because they make up the majority of domestic violence victims. The Court reasoned that a duty to retreat jury instruction in such circumstances would perpetuate common myths concerning domestic violence victims by leaving a jury to think that if the abuse was so terrible, the woman should have left.


State v. Malette North Carolina Supreme Court (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

A court issued a warrant for the arrest of the defendant after he assaulted and injured Dorian Jones.  The magistrate judge did not authorize his release after he was arrested; he was held for a hearing before the District Court Judge.  The Judge set a secured bond of $10,000; a few days later, the State and defense counsel agreed to a lowered bond on the condition that the defendant would have no contact with the victim.  The District Court Judge signed the order, and he was released after posting bond.  About a week later, when his case was called, he moved to dismiss.  He argued prosecution of the case violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution.  The court noted that in its consideration of statutes, it has held that “constitutional attacks on criminal statutes must be made on a case-by-case basis.”  It found that in this case, there was no unreasonable delay in holding a post-detention hearing for the defendant.  Therefore, it held that N.C.G.S. § 15A-534.1(b), which “sets forth conditions of bail and pretrial release for individuals accused of crimes of domestic violence” was constitutional as applied to the defendant.



Ericson v. Syracuse Univ. United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (1999)

Sexual harassment

Ms. Ericson and Ms. Kornechuk brought an action against Syracuse University and its employees under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. section 1681 (“Title IX”) and the Violence Against Women Act, 42 U.S.C. section 13981 (“VAWA”). Plaintiffs alleged that they were sexually harassed by their tennis coach, and that the University was aware of the tennis coach’s behavior and conducted a sham investigatory proceeding to conceal the extent of the tennis coach’s misconduct, which had occurred for more than twenty years. Defendants moved to dismiss the claims. They contended that Title IX did not provide a private right of action and the VAWA claim was barred by the statue of limitations. The court held that there was a private right of action under Title IX pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist. (1998). Erickson held that a student who has been sexually harassed by an employee of an institution may bring suit against the institution, under Title IX, for private damages if: (1) the institution has authority to institute corrective measures on its behalf; (2) has actual notice of the behavior; and (3) is deliberately indifferent to its employee’s misconduct. The court found that Plaintiffs’ complaint, on its face, satisfied that standard because it alleged the individuals who investigated the charges against the tennis coach not only had actual notice that the tennis coach had been harassing female student-athletes for twenty years but had also conspired to conduct a sham investigation to conceal the full extent of the coach’s misconduct. The court reasoned that the allegation that the institution knew of the 13 of female-athletes and did not respond adequately was sufficient to state a claim under Title IX. The court also held that the statute of limitations did not bar the Plaintiffs’ claim under the VAWA. VAWA provides a civil cause of action to victims of gender-motivated crimes of violence. It does not contain an express statute of limitations. Accordingly, the court found that it should look to the “most appropriate or analogous state statute of limitations.” The court reasoned that Congress’ stated purpose, in enacting this law, was to “protect the civil rights of victims of gender motivated violence by establishing a federal civil rights cause of action.” Because of Congress’ stated purpose, the court found that the cause of action that was most analogous to VAWA was a personal injury claim, and as such, a three-year statute of limitations should apply. Thus, Plaintiffs’ claim under VAWA was not barred by the statue of limitations because the alleged acts of violence occurred within three years from when Plaintiffs filed their complaint.



Abankwah v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv. United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (1999)

Harmful traditional practices

Ms. Abankwah, a native of Ghana, was a member of a tribe that punishes women who engage in premarital sex with female genital mutilation (“FGM”). While Ms. Abankwah was away from her tribe, she had a sexual relationship. Subsequently, she learned that she would be the next Queen Mother of her tribe, a position that requires a woman to remain a virgin until marriage. She knew this meant the tribe would discover she had engaged in premarital sex and she would be punished with FGM. Ms. Abankwah fled but her tribe came after her. She decided it was unsafe for her to remain in Ghana and purchased a falsified Ghanaian passport and U.S. visa and fled to the United States. Immigration authorities arrested Ms. Abankwah when she arrived in the United States and commenced deportation proceedings against her. Ms. Abankwah sought to remain in the United States by seeking asylum. To obtain asylum, she needed to establish, among other requirements, that she was unable or unwilling to return to her native country because of a “well-founded” fear of persecution, pursuant to section 208(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. section 1158(a). Ms. Abankwah explained that she feared returning to Ghana because, if she did, her tribe would perform FGM on her. The immigration court denied her petition for asylum because it concluded that her fear of FGM was not objectively reasonable. On appeal, however, the court found that Ms. Abankwah was a credible witness and her fear was objectively reasonable because it was “based on her knowledge of and experience with customs of her tribe.” As such, Ms. Abankwah was granted asylum and allowed to stay in the United States.



S. v. Katamba Supreme Court of Namibia (1999)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The State appeals the decision in the High Court to acquit the accused of all charges of rape and abduction of an 11 year old by taking her away from her guardian with the intent to have sexual intercourse with her.  The Court reversed the acquittal and found the accused guilty on the charges of rape and abduction and affirmed an earlier judgment that the cautionary rule discriminates against women in violation of the Constitution and should only be used at a judge's discretion in extreme cases where there is some valid reason to question a complainant's veracity



José Santos Colque Góngora c/ Angela Muriel Aguilar y otros Sala Penal (1999)

Gender-based violence in general

Jose Santos Colque Gongora, his mother, Angela Muriel Aguilar and one other woman, Marina Medina Estevez, were convicted of performing an abortion on Miriam Colque Villca without her consent, in violation of Article 263-1 of the Penal Code. The victim was Colque Gongora's wife. Colque Gongora and his mother took the victim to Medina Estevez's house, telling her it was for a check-up, at which time Medina Estevez conducted the abortion. The appellate and supreme courts affirmed the conviction.