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Former HR manager’s retaliation suit reinstated


A federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a retaliation lawsuit filed by a former Georgia Pacific LLC human resources manager who was allegedly terminated shortly after revealing she had given a deposition in favor of employees in a pregnancy discrimination case filed against her former employer.

Jacqueline Marie Patterson was working as a human resources manager for Atlanta-based Georgia Pacific when she provided deposition testimony in the lawsuit filed against her former employer, a health system, according to the ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Marie Patterson vs. Georgia Pacific, LLC, Alabama River Cellulose, LLC; Timothy McIlwain et al.

When the Georgia Pacific HR director asked her whether she had supported the employer in the deposition, she responded she had testified “on behalf of the ladies,” the ruling said. She was terminated a week later without being given a reason, according to the ruling.

Ms. Patterson filed suit against Georgia Pacific in U.S. District Court in Mobile, Alabama, charging retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted Georgia Pacific summary judgment dismissing the case.

The lower court was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel. The district court concluded that under Title VII’s manager exception, Ms. Patterson had not engaged in protected activity in giving the deposition because she had been acting in relation to her company’s job responsibilities, the ruling said.

But Title VII’s opposition clause protects any employee who has opposed an unlawful employment practice, the ruling said. “What matters is not the job duties or title of the employee but the actions or conduct that caused the retaliation against her,” the panel said, in rejecting the lower court’s ruling on that issue.

The district court alternatively ruled that Ms. Patterson did not engage in protected activity because it did not concern her current employer. 

However, “There is nothing in the anti-retaliation provision’s opposition clause that permits an employer to retaliate against one of its employees for opposing an unlawful employment practice of a former employer,” the panel said, in reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.