The U.S. court system offers those subject to employment discrimination an avenue to bring claims before a judicial body. However, a recent news report describes a New York sexual harassment and retaliation case that originated with employees of the court system. A court clerk alleges that her supervisor in a Brooklyn criminal court made unwanted sexual advances and punished her when she did not comply with his requests. In response, the New York State Court Clerks Association filed a complaint on behalf of the clerk. The complaint alleged that she resisted her supervisor’s unwanted sexual propositions, and as a result, she was demoted from her position in retaliation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that provides guidance as to what constitutes employer retaliation against an employee. It is illegal for an employer to punish an employee for engaging in a “protected activity.” This term is intentionally broadly defined, and it includes refusing to follow orders that would lead to harassment and resisting sexual advances from a supervisor. Title VII also prohibits a coworker, employer, or supervisor from sexually harassing another employee.
The court clerk worked under her supervisor for over a decade, and over time her supervisor’s sexual advances became progressively more overt and lewd. For instance, the supervisor asked the court clerk if she ever took naked pictures of herself, commented that she was “one of those hot Latinas,” asked that she sit on his lap at work, and requested that she send him bikini pictures from a recent vacation on a cruise ship. The clerk resisted these sexual advances, and as a result, she was demoted in retaliation because of her refusal to succumb to her supervisor’s requests, the complaint alleges. Her claim draws a link between her “protected activity,” the refusal to supply bikini pictures of herself, and her job demotion.