In an Occupational Safety and Health Administration worker’s employment lawsuit, a federal appeals court has ruled that federal employees are eligible to file workplace retaliation claims under Title VII.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Komis v. Secretary of Labor rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her hostile work environment and retaliation lawsuit was tainted by faulty jury instructions.
In doing so, the Third Circuit addressed a federal employee’s right to file retaliation claims, but declined to explore the limits of such claims.
“We first clarify that federal employees may bring claims for retaliation under Title VII even though the federal-sector provision does not explicitly reference retaliation,” Third Circuit Judge Anthony Scirica wrote in the court’s opinion. “While the government then asserts federal-sector retaliation claims are, unlike their private-sector counterparts, limited to challenging ‘personnel actions,’ we conclude this case does not give occasion to address that contention.”
Scirica pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in Gomez-Perez v. Potter in which the high court held that Section 633 of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act permits federal employees to file retaliation claims.
“Based on our previous recognition of such claims and the Supreme Court’s holding in Gomez-Perez, we reaffirm that federal employees may bring retaliation claims under Title VII. Parity between private-sector and federal-sector retaliation claims ensures ‘[a]ll personnel actions affecting [federal] employees … shall be made free from any discrimination,’” Scirica said.
As far as jury instructions in Komis went, Scirica said, plaintiff Chrysoula J. Komis argued the trial court’s instruction that a retaliatory hostile work environment claim requires proof of “conduct … so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person in Ms. Komis’ position would find her work environment hostile or abusive” was erroneous because the “severe or pervasive” requirement for a retaliation claim, including for a retaliatory hostile work environment, has since been removed.
Komis argued that the jury should have been instructed only on the material adversity standard, however, Scirica said Komis’ case did not factually rise to meet the standard.
“Whatever the room in magnitude of harm between conduct severe or pervasive such that it affects the terms and conditions of employment and materially adverse conduct that would dissuade a reasonable worker from invoking her anti-discrimination rights, Komis has not shown how it might change the outcome in her case,” Scirica said.
Mark S. Scheffer represents Komis and did not respond to a request for comment.
Reached Tuesday, a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson said, “We are pleased that the Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict that the Department of Labor did not discriminate against Ms. Komis.”