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A federal appeals court has reinstated the retaliatory harassment claim of a terminated executive assistant who said she was threatened by her supervisor.
Susan Monaghan, who was white and over 40 years old, worked at Atlanta-based Worldpay U.S. Inc., a financial transaction processing services firm, from Sept. 2 to Nov. 21, 2014, and was terminated during the 90-day probationary period applicable to new employees, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Susan Monaghan v. Worldpay US, Inc.
Her immediate supervisor between Sept. 2 and Nov. 3, who was black, allegedly made a number of race- and age-based comments to her, according to the ruling, including that she was “too old.” The supervisor also told another employee, “this little white woman is giving me drama over here.”
After Ms. Monaghan complained to the executives with whom she worked, and the supervisor learned about it, the supervisor told Ms. Monaghan she would be blackballed, her days working for Worldpay were numbered and she had “better watch it”’ because the supervisor and her boyfriend knew where she lived.
When Ms. Monaghan was later terminated, another supervisor told her it was because of her complaints and made a comment indicating she was being fired in retaliation for having the black supervisor fired.
Ms. Monaghan filed suit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on charges including retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted Worldpay summary judgment dismissing the case.
In reinstating the retaliation claim, the appeals court said, “It has long been settled that Title VII makes discriminatory treatment actionable only if it reaches a sufficient level of substantiality. Trivial slights are not actionable…Articulating the dividing line between substantial and trivial has not always been easy,” the ruling said.
After analyzing earlier cases, the ruling said the “remaining question” is whether Ms. Monaghan’s alleged treatment “might well have dissuaded” her from making or supporting a discrimination charge. The supervisor’s threats of termination and possible physical harm may have done so, said the ruling.
“In addition, Worldpay fired Ms. Monaghan. Termination easily satisfies the ‘well might have dissuaded’ standard and a reasonable jury could find that the termination was retaliatory,” said the ruling.
The second supervisor telling Ms. Monaghan she was being fired because of her complaints about the first supervisor “is additional evidence supporting the information that the termination was retaliation for Ms. Monaghan’s complaints” about the first supervisor, the ruling said, in reinstating the retaliation charge and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Ms. Monaghan’s attorney, Amanda A. Farahany, managing partner at Barrett & Farahany LLP in Atlanta, said in a statement, “We are pleased that the 11th Circuit clarified that employees do not have to prove that retaliation is severe or pervasive. This case returns the law to what it should be for Plaintiffs. We look forward to taking this important case to trial, when it becomes safe to do so.”
Worldpay’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Retaliation charges once more represented more than half of the total charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in fiscal 2019 and comprised the largest category of losses filed for the ninth consecutive year, the agency said in January.
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