Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Parker v. Warren County Util. Dist. Tennessee Supreme Court (2009)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff Parker alleged that defendant Grissom, a general manager who hired her as a bookkeeper, sexually harassed her.  She reported the harassment to her immediate supervisor, Link.  Parker stated that she feared losing her job if she did anything, so asked that Link do nothing.  The harassment continued, and Link reported it to Vinson, a member of the Utility’s Board of Commissioners.  Vinson agreed that plaintiff would likely lose her job if she reported the harassment.  Plaintiff later discussed the issue with Vinson, who did not assure her that she would not lose her job.  Grissom voluntarily resigned in April of 1994 but was rehired in the fall, despite the fact that plaintiff notified the board of the alleged harassment.  The board rehired him, but also retained counsel to conduct an independent investigation of his alleged harassment. Plaintiff filed several claims; the remaining hostile work environment/13 claim before the Court was against the Utility District under the Tennessee Human Rights Act.  The Utility District filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that “it took prompt corrective action in response to plaintiff’s complaints and that the corrective action was ‘a complete defense’ to a claim for 13.”  An employer has an affirmative defense to a hostile work environment claim based on 13 by a supervisor if the employer can show: (1) that employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior, and (2) employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by employer or that employee unreasonably failed to otherwise avoid the harm.  The court held that Parker’s supervisor could be held vicariously liable for her hostile work environment 13 claim.  There was no evidence that the District exercised reasonable care to prevent the alleged harassment, and that there was no evidence of a written anti-discrimination policy given to employees to deal with the circumstances of the case.  It reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the employer, and modified a previous decision, Carr v. United Parcel Service, 955 S.W.2d 832, according to which a supervisor could be vicariously liable only for quid pro quo, and not hostile work environment 13 claims.  The court modified Carr to “reflect the recently articulated standard for supervisor harassment adopted by the United States Supreme Court.”

Kite v. Kite Tennessee Supreme Court (1997)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The court found that a trial court retains jurisdiction under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36 – 3 – 605 “after failing to conduct a hearing within ten (10) days of service of an ex parte protective order.”  The court found that the ten day limit was only a limit on the duration of the protective order and not a limit on jurisdiction.  Petitioner Kite alleged that defendant vandalized her home and automobile, called her employer and tried to get her fired, assaulted her repeatedly and regularly called and harassed her.  On these grounds, she requested an immediate ex parte order of protection from the trial court.  The trial court issued the order and set a hearing date that did not fall within ten days of service of the order.  The respondent filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the court had jurisdiction only for ten days after service of the protective order.  The court looked to the legislative intent behind the statute, finding the words of the statute ambiguous.  It interpreted the ten-day requirement in a manner consistent with the policy goal of “providing enhanced protection from domestic abuse.”  It found that the ten-day requirement was not meant to limit a domestic violence victim’s judicial protection, but rather to limit “the potential for abuse by protecting respondents from possible ongoing frivolous or retaliatory ex parte protective orders.”

Roberson v. University of Tennessee Tennessee Supreme Court (1992)

Gender discrimination

Employee filed suit against her employer, the University of Tennessee, alleging sex discrimination under the Equal Pay Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”).  She also alleged that her employer retaliated against her for filing an EEOC charge.  The Court of Appeals held that there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict that she had suffered discrimination and that her employer retaliated against her.  Plaintiff was an employee of the University’s Agricultural Extension Service since 1980.  She was eligible for a promotion in 1986, but was not promoted.  Her co-worker, however, who started in 1979, was promoted.  Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge.  She then brought an action for sex discrimination under the Equal Pay Act and THRA and alleged that defendant retaliated against her for filing the EEOC charge.  The Court found sufficient evidence to uphold the jury verdict granting plaintiff $13,600 on her discrimination claim, $50,000 on her retaliation claim, and $26,000 in attorney’s fees.  The Court noted evidence that plaintiff’s evaluation scores were adjusted downward after she signed off on them and before they were given to the Dean who made decisions regarding pay and promotion.  There was also evidence that complaints against her were taken more seriously than complaints against her peers.  One of her supervisors admitted that he stopped recommending her for promotions after she filed the EEOC charge, and that management took much more time and effort over small matters that related to the plaintiff.