Tennessee

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Domestic Case Law

McGlothlin v. Bristol Obstetrics, Gynecology and Family Planning, Inc. Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville (1998)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

A mother and daughter sued an abortion provider for having performed an abortion on the minor daughter without first obtaining her parents’ approval, which was in violation of a Tennessee statute. The daughter was 17 years and ten months old at the time. The trial court dismissed the complaint because the statute was unconstitutional as applied to the abortion rights of minors. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed, finding that the statute in question violated the privacy rights of minors seeking abortions.



Berning v. State Department of Correction Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville (1999)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff, the manager of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s Murfreesboro probation office, was fired after an anonymous letter was sent to the department alleging that the office was rife with sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment. An administrative law judge reviewed the plaintiff’s termination and found it to be warranted. The plaintiff appealed the administrative law judge’s decision to the Davidson County Chancery Court, which affirmed the order. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed the Chancery Court’s decision, holding in part that the conduct for which he was fired was not protected speech under the First Amendment.



Spann v. Abraham Court of Appeals of Tennessee (1999)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff, a cook and assistant manager at the defendant’s pizza franchise, informed her employer that she was pregnant. The defendant offered her the position of a backup night driver—a position she had held before—and proposed that his son replace her as the assistant manager while she took maternity leave. When she refused, the defendant informed her that if she did not accept the temporary reassignment, he had no other position for her. She quit soon after and sued in the Davidson County Circuit Court for pregnancy discrimination in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”). The Court entered a directed verdict in favor of her employer, and the Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed, finding that the plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case that the defendant discriminated against her because she was pregnant.



Keeton v. Hill Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville (2000)

Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff was fired for falsifying documents related to her work time. She sued in the Davidson County Chancery Court, alleging sexual harassment and retaliatory discharge in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”). The plaintiff alleged that her supervisors made sexually derogatory remarks to her, and that she was fired shortly after she complained about these comments. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, and the Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed because the employer had established the affirmative defense of exercising reasonable care.



Tennessee Department of Health v. Boyle Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville (2002)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

A Tennessee statute required private clinics providing a “substantial number” of abortions to obtain a “certificate of need” from the Health Facilities Commission and a license from the Department of Health. The Department of Health denied a license to plaintiffs, and then sued to enjoin them from performing abortions. Defendants alleged that the licensing requirement violated the United States and Tennessee Constitutions as they relate to women’s right to privacy. The Davidson County Chancery Court upheld the statute and enjoined the defendants from performing abortions. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee reversed, holding that the statute was unconstitutional.



Bundy v. First Tennessee Bank National Association Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson (2007)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff, a 59 year-old male employee, was fired following his failure to disclose documents he received from a customer. He filed suit in the Shelby County Circuit Court alleging both age and sex discrimination. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of his employer, and the Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed because the plaintiff was neither replaced by a younger female employee nor was he similarly situated to a younger female employee.



Smith v. City of Chattanooga Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville (2007)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff was a police officer with the Chattanooga Police Department. After repeated sexual harassment by a fellow officer, she filed a sexual harassment complaint against the officer, and he was transferred to a different team. However, he still worked in close physical proximity to the plaintiff and his presence intimidated her. She filed suit in the Hamilton County Chancery Court, alleging hostile work environment and sexual harassment in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”). The Court granted a directed verdict in favor of the police department, but the Court of Appeals of Tennessee vacated the verdict, finding that reasonable minds could differ on whether the employer established the affirmative defense that it took appropriate corrective action.



Bellomy v. Autozone, Inc. Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville (2009)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff was the defendant’s employee. She applied for the position of store manager, but the promotion was given to a younger male employee with less experience. She sued her employer in the Hamilton County Chancery Court alleging sex discrimination and other tort claims. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of her employer, but the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reversed and remanded her sex discrimination claims, finding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the plaintiff was qualified for the store manager position.



Hartman v. Tennessee Board of Regents Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville (2011)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff was a long-time employee of Tennessee Tech University’s facilities department, where she managed inventory and was required to make purchases of supplies and equipment. After she made a purchase that exceeded her $5,000 purchasing authority, and even though she had recruited multiple bids for the product and chose the best supplier, her employment was terminated. The plaintiff filed suit in the Putnam County Chancery Court for gender discrimination. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed, finding that the plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged that a similarly-situated male employee was treated more favorably, even though she had named a male employee who was not fired after making a purchase that exceeded his purchasing authority.



Castro v. TX District Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson (2013)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff worked at-will as a sales representative for the defendant. Shortly after she started working there, she discovered she was pregnant and informed her supervisor. Shortly after that, her supervisor informed her that her yearly salary would be halved, allegedly because she had failed to meet sales quotas. When she contacted the CEO (with whom she had interviewed) about her pay reduction, her supervisor met informed her that it was inappropriate to go over his head. After renegotiating the terms of her employment, her employment was soon terminated, again allegedly for failing to meet sales quotas. The plaintiff filed suit in the Shelby County Chancery Court for of sex and pregnancy discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of her employer, but the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reversed, holding that the defendant did not establish that there were no male comparators that were treated more favorably than the plaintiff.



Pierce v. City of Humboldt Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson (2013)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff was a police officer with the Humboldt Police Department. While off duty, she ran into an ex-boyfriend against whom she had a protective order. Based on this encounter, she filed a criminal charge against him for violating the order. The chief of police commenced an internal affairs investigation into her charges, and her ex-boyfriend filed a criminal charge against her for filing a false charge. While both charges were pending, the plaintiff informed the chief of police that she was pregnant. Once the internal affairs investigation was completed, the plaintiff’s employment was terminated. She filed suit in the Gibson County Circuit Court for discrimination based on gender and pregnancy in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”). The Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of her employer, but the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reversed and remanded, finding that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged that she was treated differently than similarly situated male police officers.



Bazemore v. Performance Food Group, Inc. Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville (2015)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff was employed by the defendant as a sales manager. Another sales manager in her office sexually harassed her verbally and physically. He repeatedly made sexually explicit comments towards her and grabbed her buttocks on one occasion. The plaintiff sued in the Hamilton County Circuit Court, alleging sexual harassment and constructive discharge in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”). The Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of her employer, and the Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed, finding that the employer took reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.



Sanders v. Lanier Supreme Court of Tennessee (1998)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff worked as a youth services officer with the Dyer County Juvenile Court, where she alleged that a Chancery Court judge sexually harassed her verbally and physically. When she rejected his advances, the judge demoted her from her supervisory position, denied her salary increases, and altered her job requirements weekly. She sued the judge for quid-pro-quo sexual harassment, in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”). The Dyer County Chancery Court determined that the State was not the plaintiff’s employer for purposes of the THRA and dismissed her complaint for failing to state a cause of action. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee reversed and the Supreme Court of Tennessee affirmed the Court of Appeals decision. The Supreme Court of Tennessee held that the plaintiff did state a cause of action because the State was the plaintiff’s employer and the defendant was a supervisor acting in the scope of his employment, making the employer strictly liable under an “alter-ego” theory of liability.



Anderson v. Save-A-Lot, Ltd. Supreme Court of Tennessee (1999)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff was the co-manager of a Save-A-Lot grocery store in Memphis, where her immediate supervisor sexually harassed her daily and threatened to kill her if she reported the harassment. She reported him and transferred to another store, but suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and other psychological problems for which she sought medical treatment. She filed a complaint for workers compensation, which is at issue in this appeal, as well as a claim in federal court for sexual harassment in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Shelby County Chancery Court granted summary judgment in favor of her employer on her worker’s compensation claim, finding that that her injuries did not arise out of her employment. The Special Workers Compensation Appeals Panel reversed and remanded, but the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the Panel’s ruling, holding that her employment was not the “but for” cause of her injuries.



Parker v. Warren County Utility District Supreme Court of Tennessee (1999)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff worked as a bookkeeper for the defendant. The general manager of the district repeatedly touched her inappropriately and made inappropriate remarks to her. Parker made numerous complaints to her immediate supervisor, but the harassing conduct continued until she resigned. Soon after, she sued the defendant for sexual harassment in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act in the Warren County Chancery Court. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, finding that it took prompt corrective action in response to plaintiff’s complaints, thereby establishing a complete affirmative defense. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee reversed, finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant acted promptly and adequately. The Supreme Court of Tennessee held that an employer is subject to vicarious liability for actionable hostile work environment sexual harassment by a supervisor with immediate, or successively higher, authority over employee, but that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the employer exercised reasonable care. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings.



Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee v. Sundquist Supreme Court of Tennessee (2000)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

A Tennessee criminal statute required that physicians warn their patients that “abortion in a considerable number of cases constitutes a major surgical procedure,” that second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital, and that women wait two days after meeting with a physician to receive an abortion. The plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of these provisions. The Davidson County Circuit Court struck down as unconstitutional the statutory warning and two-day waiting period as unconstitutional, but allowed the hospitalization requirement. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee reversed, finding each requirement constitutional. The Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that none of the provisions could be deemed constitutional under the proper strict scrutiny framework.



Thornton v. Federal Express Corp. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2008)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellant, a former employee of FedEx, the defendant, was discharged when she did not return from work after a 16-month leave of absence. She took this leave because of stress she suffered after being sexually harassed by her immediate supervisor, and she did not return to work because her health care providers had not released her from treatment for panic disorder and fibromyalgia. The plaintiff sued for sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as discrimination based on disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of FedEx, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the plaintiff did not establish either that she was disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act or that she suffered an adverse employment action.



Gilbert v. Country Music Association, Inc. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2011)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ, Sexual harassment

After the plaintiff-appellant, a theater professional who was openly homosexual, complained that a coworker had threatened him based on his sexual orientation and a union hiring hall of which the plaintiff was a member refused to provide him with work. Gilbert sued his union and a collection of various employers, alleging, among other claims, discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court observed that, while Title VII prohibits sex discrimination, and that this prohibition includes “sex stereotyping” whereby a plaintiff suffers an adverse employment action due to his or her nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The court held that Gilbert had not plead a sex stereotyping claim since other than his sexual orientation, the plaintiff fit every male stereotype, and sexual orientation did not suffice to obtain recovery under Title VII: “[f]or all we know,” the Court stated, “Gilbert fits every ‘male stereotype’ save one—sexual orientation—and that does not suffice to obtain relief under Title VII.”



Mathis v. Wayne County Board of Education United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2012)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The plaintiff-appellants’ sons were members of their middle school basketball team who were victims of sexual harassment by their teammates. The harassment ranged from arguably innocent locker room pranks to sexual violence. The plaintiffs sued the Wayne County Board of Education, alleging that the school board was deliberately indifferent to student-on-student sexual harassment in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. The District Court denied the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law and awarded the plaintiffs $100,000 each in damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the plaintiffs had established the following elements of a deliberate indifference claim: that the sexual harassment was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it could be said to deprive the plaintiff of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school; that the funding recipient (i.e. the board of education) had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment, and the funding recipient was deliberately indifferent to the harassment.



EEOC v. New Breed Logistics United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2015)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellant, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, initiated sexual harassment and retaliation claims under Title VII against New Breed Logistics, the defendant, on behalf of three employees. The plaintiff alleged that Calhoun, a supervisor at New Breed sexually harassed three female employees and then retaliated against the women after they complained. The plaintiff further alleged that Calhoun retaliated against a male employee who verbally objected to Calhoun’s harassment of the women. The evidence presented to the district court that showed that each woman communicated her intent to complain about Calhoun’s sexual harassment shortly after which all three women were fired or transferred. One of the women lodged a complaint through the company’s complaint line but the company asked Calhoun five questions about his conduct and determined there was no misconduct. A jury found the defendant liable under Title VII for Calhoun’s sexual harassment and retaliation, and the district court denied the defendant’s post-trial motions for a new trial and judgment as a matter of law. The district court determined that complaints to management and informal protests were protected activities under Title VII. Therefore, the three employees’ demand that Calhoun stop harassing them were considered protected activity under Title VII, and retaliation constituted a violation of Title VII. The defendant appealed, challenging the district court’s denial of its post-trial motions. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decisions, finding that sufficient evidence supported the district court’s rulings and that the district court did not abuse its discretion when providing instructions to the jury.



Simpson v. Vanderbilt University United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2017)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff-appellant was a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who solicited clients for her own private business, which the defendant, Vanderbilt University, considered to be a violation of its Conflict of Interest Policy, its By-Laws, and its Participation Agreement. The defendant terminated the plaintiff’s employment and she sued the defendant, alleging that her termination was due to gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, holding that the plaintiff failed to identify a suitable male comparator and thus did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding key differences between the plaintiff’s conduct and that of the male comparator she identified, including most notably the fact that the male comparator had disclosed his work outside of Vanderbilt University on his conflict of interest form.



Doe v. Corrections Corporation of America United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee (2015)

Sexual harassment

Three female petitioners sued a state-managed prison facility after prison officials required them to verify that they were menstruating before bringing feminine hygiene products into a male prison when visiting inmates. One of the petitioners’ children was also forced to watch the mother being searched because prison rules require children be supervised at all times. The women cited violations of due process, invasion of privacy, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, unconstitutional seizures, unconstitutional search and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court denied the prison’s motion to dismiss, noting that filing a case against an agent in his official capacity as well as the entity to which the individual agent is not legally precluded and that liability can rest on the individuals given that the actors at least knowingly acquiesced in the search and likely facilitated the policy that allowed it to happen.



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.