RESPONDENT: Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee
LOCATION: Metropolitan Government of Nashville, Human Resources
DOCKET NO.: 06-1595
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 555 US (2009)
GRANTED: Jan 18, 2008
ARGUED: Oct 08, 2008
DECIDED: Jan 26, 2009
Eric Schnapper - argued the cause for the petitioner
Francis H. Young - argued the cause for the respondent
Lisa Schiavo Blatt - on behalf of the united states, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Facts of the case
Vicky Crawford, a government employee, took part in an internal investigation regarding sexual harassment claims against another employee. When the investigation concluded, Crawford was fired based on charges of embezzlement and drug use. When these charges were later proven untrue, Crawford filed suit against her employer in federal district court in Tennessee claiming retaliatory discharge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act based on her participation in the investigation. The district court directed a verdict for her employer.
On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling. Once again finding for the employer, the court stated that Crawford's participation in the investigation did not constitute "opposition" and her activity in that regard was not "protected" as those terms are defined in Title VII, making the Civil Rights Act inapplicable to her claim.
Does the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act apply to employees fired for participating in an internal investigation of sexual harassment?
Media for Crawford v. Nashville and Davidson County, TNAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 2008 in Crawford v. Nashville and Davidson County, TN
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 26, 2009 in Crawford v. Nashville and Davidson County, TN
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Souter has the opinion of the Court in three opinions today.
David H. Souter:
The first of this is in 06-1595, Crawford and Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.
This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
The petitioner, Vicky Crawford, was a long time employee of the respondent Metro of the local government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee.
In 2002, Metro began looking into rumors of sexual harassment by its employee relations director, Gene Hughes.
As part of the investigation, Metro Human Resources employee asked Crawford whether Hughes had ever behaved inappropriately toward her.
Crawford replied with examples of Hughes' act of sexual harassment directed at her and described several instances of grotesque behavior.
Soon after Crawford made her report, Metro accused her of embezzlement and fired her.
Crawford sued Metro under the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That provision has two clauses.
The first known as the opposition clause bars employers from discriminating against employees because they have opposed any practice prohibited by Title VII.
The second, the participation clause for forbids employers from discriminating against employees because they have participated in an investigation under Title VII.
The District Court in the Sixth Circuit ruled against Crawford.
They held that she could not satisfy the opposition clause because she had not instigated or initiated any complaint but instead had merely answered questions by investigators and then already pending internal investigation.
They also rejected her claim under the participation clause which the Sixth Circuit applies to an employer's internal investigation only where the investigation occurs pursuant to a pending EEOC charge which was lacking here.
In an opinion filed today with the clerk of court, we reverse.
Crawford's conduct falls within the opposition clause's scope.
The opposition clause protects any employee who opposes forbidden discriminatory actions that is an employee who resists or shows hostility to unlawful discrimination.
Crawford's conduct is covered for her statement showed clear hostility to Hughes' behavior.
The Sixth Circuit limited the definition of oppose to initiating a complaint, but the words meaning is not so limited in ordinary speech.
We often use the word to speak of someone who has taking no action at all who advance the position beyond disclosing it.
For example, countless people were known to oppose slavery before Emancipation or are said to oppose capital punishment today without writing public letters or taking to the streets or resisting government.
In some, nothing in the opposition clause requires a bizarre rule of protecting an employee who reports discrimination on her own initiative, but not one who reports the same discrimination in the same words when her employer asks a question.
Because Crawford's conduct is covered by the opposition clause, we do not reach your argument with the Sixth Circuit misread the participation clause as well.
We reverse and remand so Sixth Circuit can consider the other defenses Metro has raised.
Justice Alito has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Thomas joins.