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Female firefighter's retaliation claim can go forward

Female firefighter's retaliation claim can go forward

A federal appeals court has upheld dismissal of a hostile work environment claim filed by a fired fire department lieutenant but has reinstated her retaliation claim.

Sara L. Fox, who was a lieutenant with the Leland Volunteer Fire/Rescue Department in Leland, North Carolina, had complained she had been subjected to “continuous condescending and disrespectful behavior” from her male subordinates, according to Thursday's ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia in Sara L. Fox v. Leland Volunteer Fire/Rescue Department Inc. et al.

She was terminated Jan. 5, 2011, two days after she told a female co-worker she had consulted with an attorney about filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who in turn notified the department's chief of the conversation.

Ms. Fox filed suit against the department and the chief, John Grimes, in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, North Carolina, on charges including a hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court granted the defendants' motion dismissing the case.

A three-judge appeals court panel unanimously affirmed dismissal of the hostile work environment charge.

“We find no evidence in the record to support her contention that she suffered from a discriminatorily hostile or abusive work environment, in violation of Title VII,” said the ruling. “Her subordinates' conduct was discourteous, insubordinate and perhaps at times boorish, but not demonstrative of sexual animus.”

However, the panel reinstated the retaliation charge. “We cannot agree that there is no genuine dispute of material fact with respect to the motivation for Fox's termination,” said the ruling.

“The record reveals conflicting evidence as to the timing of Chief Grimes' decision to terminate Fox in close proximity to learning other complaint to the EEOC,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.

Retaliation continued to be the most frequently filed charge of discrimination at the EEOC, accounting for 44.5% of private-sector charges filed in fiscal year 2015.

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