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Retaliation Claim and Timing of Job Loss

October 14, 2008
Jessica Magyar worked at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend, Indiana, as a part-time assistant scheduler. In August 2004 Magyar complained to Pam Goddard, her supervisor, that on two occasions a male employee, Dale Carl, sat on her lap and whispered sexually offensive comments.

In response, Goddard spoke to Carl about that complaint. Magyar claimed that Goddard never discussed a resolution to her complaint. When Magyar complained about Goddard’s handling of her complaints to Robert Wade, the hospital’s general counsel, she pointed out that her job was posted as vacant. In fact, Magyar’s job was eliminated the next month.

Magyar sued St. Joseph under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that the hospital had retaliated against her for her sexual harassment complaints. The district court dismissed the lawsuit in favor of St. Joseph, and Magyar appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago reversed, holding that Magyar’s complaint met the "objective reasonableness" test to succeed on a retaliation claim and that a reasonable jury could find the timing of the elimination of Magyar’s job after her complaints of harassment was suspicious. The 7th Circuit reasoned that once Magyar complained to Goddard about the alleged harassment, her subsequent complaints about Goddard’s response were also protected by Title VII. Further, Goddard’s posting of Magyar’s job as vacant within a few days of the meeting "is more than mere suspicious timing. It is sufficient to raise an inference of causation." Magyar v. St. Joseph Reg. Med. Ctr., 7th Cir., No. 07-2197 (9/12/08).

Impact: Evidence of causation can be established when an employee’s job loss occurs within days of making complaints.

Workforce Management, October 6, 2008, p. 11 -- Subscribe Now!