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A federal appeals court has reinstated retaliation charges made by a professor whose contract was not renewed after she had filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating the lower court had applied too-high a standard of evidence at an early stage in the case.
Millicent Carvalho-Grevious, who is black, was hired as an associate professor and chairperson of the Department of Social Work at Delaware State University in Dover in August 2010, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in Millicent Carvalho-Grevious v. Delaware State University; John Austin; Alton Thompson.
Her main focus was to facilitate the department’s reaccreditation efforts with the Alexandria, Virginia-based Council of Work Education’s Office of Social Work Accreditation, according to the ruling.
But after she struggled with the process, Mr. Thompson, the university’s provost, asked the association for a one-year postponement of the reaccreditation deadline, which OSWA denied in April 2011.
The same day, Ms. Grevious filed a sexual harassment, racial discrimination and related retaliation complaint against Mr. Austin, a dean, with the university’s human resources department.
In May 2011, after Ms. Grevious was told she would be dismissed as chairperson, she filed a complaint with the EEOC charging the premature termination of her term as chairperson was retaliation for her complaints about Mr. Austin.
In June 2011, the university issued her a terminal, rather than a renewable, ending her employment effective May 2012. She then filed a second EEOC complaint charging she was issued the terminal contract in retaliation for filing the initial EEOC charge.
When that contract expired, Mr. Thompson recommended she not be reappointed. Ms. Grevious then filed a final EEOC charge alleging her ultimate termination was in retaliation for filing the earlier EEOC charge.
She then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, charging retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the university, Mr. Austin and Mr. Thompson. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing the case, which the court granted, and Ms. Grevious appealed.
In reinstating the retaliation charges against the university and Mr. Thompson, a unanimous three-judge appellate court panel said: “We hold that, at the prima facie stage, a plaintiff need only proffer evidence sufficient to raise the inference that her engagement in a protected activity was the likely reason for the adverse employment action, not the but-for reason,” i.e. but for the defendant’s conduct, the harm would not have occurred, which is a higher standard.
The panel upheld dismissal of Ms. Grievous’ claims against Mr. Austin, stating there is no dispute Mr. Thompson was responsible for issuing the terminal contract.
On Tuesday, the 3rd Circuit also reinstated a retaliation claim in a Family Medical Leave Act case.
A federal appeals court has upheld dismissal of a terminated nursing home employee’s whistleblower claim, because he had not been the first to file suit, but reinstated his retaliation claim.