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Evangeline Parker never wanted to be a benchmark in sexual discrimination law.
She began as a low-level clerk when she started her job, but ultimately rose to assistant operations manager. That's when it turned ugly with rumors she slept her way to the top. Adding injury to insult, the company fired her.
In Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc., she sued for sex discrimination based on a hostile work environment. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said she has a case -- a closely watched case.
Rumor Implicates Liability
The case started like most workplace discrimination cases: employee v. employer. But nearly 40 amici filed briefs, and a dozen lawyers argued the case.
Women's organizations from around the country supported Parker. They included the Southwest Women's Law Center, the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York, and the League of Women Voters of the United States.
Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote the majority opinion, deciding whether a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain promotions can give rise to employer liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. He said, yes.
"We conclude that the allegations of the employee's complaint in this case, where the employer is charged with participating in the circulation of the rumor and acting on it by sanctioning the employee, do implicate such liability," he wrote for the court.
The appeals panel reversed the trial court's dismissal of the hostile work environment claim, but affirmed dismissal of a wrongful termination claim. The majority said Parker did not exhaust her administrative remedies.
Judge Albert Diaz concurred in the reversal but otherwise dissented. He said Parker's claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was sufficient, even if it omitted some details.
"The majority's approach to exhaustion, in my view, demands more specificity and foresight from an EEOC claimant than our precedents or good sense require," he said.
Diaz said Parker's EEOC claim gave her employer "ample notice" of the issues surrounding her termination.