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Bikini-related retaliation lawsuit reinstated on appeal

Posted On: Jun. 30, 2016 12:00 AM CST

Bikini-related retaliation lawsuit reinstated on appeal

A federal appeals court has reinstated a retaliation lawsuit filed by a post office employee who was fired after she refused her supervisor's requests to give him a picture of herself in a bikini.

Hillary A. Kacian, a worker at the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, post office, said after she refused requests by her supervisor, George LaRue, to provide the photo, he began assigning her more work than she could handle and gave her inadequate direction in completing the work, according to Monday's ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in Hillary A. Kacian v. Postmaster General of the United States.

Around this time, in the summer of 2010, Ms. Kacian claimed Mr. LaRue also began making unwelcome comments about her physical appearance and private life.

On July 14, 2011, Ms. Kacian complained to the union president and another supervisor about the harassment. Five days later, Mr. LaRue and another supervisor observed Ms. Kacian crossing an intersection with her vehicle door open while she was on a delivery route. Mr. LaRue recommended she be fired based on this driving infraction, and she received notice of her termination two days later.

Ms. Kacian filed suit, charging retaliation, and the U.S. District Court in Johnstown granted the postmaster general summary judgment dismissing the case.

Ms. Kacian appealed to the 3rd Circuit, which concluded that “Kacian's complaint was protected activity, because her belief that she was sexually harassed was objectively reasonable.”

“We also conclude that there is sufficient evidence to raise an inference of a causal connection between Kacian's complaint and her termination,” the 3rd Circuit's unanimous three-judge panel said in its ruling.

The ruling says that according to Mr. LaRue, he had not recommended the termination of any other employee in his approximately six years as a supervisor, and he had observed at least one employee committing the same or a similar infraction and had taken no punitive measures.

Ms. Kacian also presents sufficient evidence to show Mr. LaRue knew about her complaint, said the ruling. A “juror could find the seven days between Kacian's complaint and termination, especially in the context of LaRue's history of lenience, a relevant factor — even if not a dispositive factor — in determining LaRue's knowledge,” said the ruling, in vacating the lower court judgment and remanding the case to the District Court.