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Justices Strengthen Position of Workers Who Oppose Bias
Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2009, By Jess Bravin

WASHINGTON -- Managers can't retaliate against employees who cooperate with internal investigations into workplace discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The unanimous opinion was the third decision in four years protecting employees who oppose race or sex discrimination at work. Although federal law forbids retaliation, employers have sought to avoid liability through arguments that narrowly define which actions the law covers. The latest decision underscores the court's rejection of technical arguments that could chill discrimination investigations. (Text of the Supreme Court's ruling)

The case came from Nashville, Tenn., where officials were investigating sexual-harassment allegations against the school district's employee-relations director, Gene Hughes, whose duties included reviewing discrimination complaints.

Three female employees contacted by an investigator described harassment they allegedly saw or received, such as being asked to display their breasts. The investigator reported that she couldn't corroborate the worst allegations against Mr. Hughes, but that his behavior was "inappropriate and unprofessional," court documents say. Officials took no formal action against him, but all three women who described his alleged behavior lost their jobs.  READ THE FULL STORY

Court rules for worker over retaliation
FoxNews.com January 26, 2009 By MARK SHERMAN

Workers who cooperate with their employers' internal investigations of discrimination may not be fired in retaliation for implicating colleagues or superiors, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The justices held that a longtime school system employee in Tennessee can pursue a civil rights lawsuit over her firing.

 

The court voted to reverse the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not apply to employees who merely cooperate with an internal probe rather than complain on their own or take part in a formal investigation.

 

The Cincinnati-based court was alone among federal appeals courts in its narrow view of the civil rights law, which was already understood to bar retaliation against people who complained about harassment and other discrimination.

 

"The question here is whether this protection extends to an employee who speaks out about discrimination not on her own initiative, but in answering questions during an employer's internal investigation. We hold that it does," Justice David Souter said for the court.

READ THE FULL STORY

Court Rules for Worker Over Retaliation
The Daily News, January 27, 2009 By MARK SHERMAN

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that workers who cooperate with internal investigations of retaliation by their employers are sheltered by federal laws prohibiting job discrimination.

In the opinion, the justices held that a longtime school system employee in Tennessee can pursue a civil rights lawsuit over her firing.

The court voted to reverse the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not apply to employees who merely cooperate with an internal probe rather than complain on their own or take part in a formal investigation.

“The question here is whether this protection extends to an employee who speaks out about discrimination not on her own initiative, but in answering questions during an employer’s internal investigation. We hold that it does,” Justice David Souter said for the court.

READ THE FULL STORY

Supreme Court Rules for Workers in Retaliation Case
PBS Newshour, Janaury 26, 2009, By Nathan Koppel

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the Supreme Court grants protection to employees who speak out against discrimination in the workplace. Margaret Warner has our story.

MARGARET WARNER: Today’s decision involves a Tennessee woman who was fired from her job in the Nashville school district after she cooperated in a sexual harassment investigation of her supervisor. She sued, and today the justices said unanimously that her case may go forward under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Here to tell us more is NewsHour regular Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal.

Marcia, welcome back.

MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal: Thank you, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, now, flush out the story, would you, of the woman, Ms. Crawford, who originally filed this suit.

READ THE FULL STORY and WATCH THE VIDEO

Workers Who Speak Out
The New York Times, Opinion Pages, January 29, 2009

The Supreme Court issued a strong ruling this week in favor of employees who are retaliated against for complaining about being harassed. The justices unanimously sided with a woman who was fired after answering questions in her company’s investigation of a sexual harassment claim. The ruling should give more employees the courage to speak up when they see civil rights laws being broken in their workplaces.

Vicky Crawford, who worked for the Nashville school system, was questioned by her employer as part of an internal investigation of the system’s employee relations director. Ms. Crawford told an investigator of several instances of sexually harassing conduct.

At the end of the inquiry, the employee relations director kept his job. Ms. Crawford was fired for embezzlement, although the charges against her were not pursued. She sued, charging that her firing was retaliatory.

READ THE FULL STORY

High court case: If harassed workers talk, can they be fired?
Christian Science Monitor, Warren Richey, October 7, 2008

The US Supreme Court is set to hear a case this week that will provide important practical advice to workers asked to participate in an internal company investigation of alleged sexual harassment by a senior manager.

The question: Should you cooperate and speak freely, or remain silent?

"Be quiet if you want to keep your job," says Ann Buntin Steiner, a Nashville employment lawyer.

The issue arises in a case examining whether civil rights laws protect employees from retaliation by senior managers accused of sexual harassment.

The concern among employees is that if they speak freely and implicate a senior manager or supervisor in discriminatory conduct they will probably be subject to workplace retaliation by senior managers or supervisors.

The fear is not hypothetical. According to one study, 62 percent of state workers who complained of sexual harassment reported that they faced retaliation in the form of lowered job evaluations, denial of promotions, and being transferred or fired.

More than half of women in the US face some form of workplace sexual harassment, and most of them never report it, according to the National Women's Law Center.

READ THE FULL STORY

Crawford v. Nashville

Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville, 555 U.S. 271 (2009), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court unanimously ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects an employee who opposes unlawful sexual harassment, but does not report the harassment him or herself.

Background
The petitioner, Vicky Crawford, was a long-time worker for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. In 2002, the department of human resources began an investigation into Dr. Gene Hughes, the newly hired employee relations director for the Metro School District. Several female employees had expressed concern about being sexually harassed by Hughes. Veronica Frazier, the assistant director for the county human resources department was assigned to investigate the allegations.

Frazier began by calling employees who had worked closely with Hughes, including Crawford. Crawford described to Frazier several incidents of sexual harassment.

According to Crawford, Hughes has requested on "numerous" occasions to see her breasts. Hughes also, in response to the question "What's up?" grabbed his crotch and replied "You know what's up." On several occasions, Crawford continued, Hughes had pressed his crotch against the window of her office. On one occasion, when Crawford asked Hughes what she could do for him, he grabbed her head and pulled it towards his crotch. Other allegations were made by two other women who worked with Hughes.

Frazier's report did not resolve the allegations, as Hughes denied the allegations and there were no witnesses. The report concluded that Hughes had acted inappropriately, but no disciplinary action was taken against him. (In fact even after information surfaced in March 2003 that he had made false statements on his resume, claiming untruthfully that he was an attorney, a professional football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a Navy SEAL, Hughes was merely demoted from his $91,250 position to a $75,857 position, and then moved to the athletics department and given a $6,500 pay raise. Hughes resigned in August 2003 but was allowed to collect pay at home through October 2003.)

READ THE FULL STORY

Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, 555 U.S. 271 (2009)

On April 16, 2008, the AAUP joined in an amicus brief (.pdf) filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by a coalition consisting of the AAUP, the National Employment Lawyers Association, the National Employment Law Project, and Public Justice, P.C.  The amicus brief supports the appeal of petitioner Vicky Crawford against her former employer. This case raises important Title VII issues central to the AAUP’s mission. 

The petitioner, Vicky Crawford, was a thirty-one-year employee of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee (“Metro”), who worked in the employee relations office of the Nashville school system.  In 2001, the Metro Human Resources Department learned that employees in the office where Crawford worked had complained about the inappropriate conduct of their manager.   Metro investigated these complaints and interviewed Crawford (who was not one of the original complainants) regarding the manager’s conduct. During the interview, Crawford reported that the manager had made sexually explicit remarks and gestures towards her.  Two other employees provided similar accounts of the manager’s conduct.  Ultimately, Metro took no disciplinary action against the manager, but the two other employees who had disclosed the manager’s misconduct were quickly discharged on other grounds. Crawford herself was terminated in January 2003 on grounds that ultimately proved unfounded. Crawford filed a lawsuit claiming retaliation in violation of Title VII.  

Crawford claimed that her cooperation in Metro’s internal investigation constituted both “opposition” to a practice made unlawful by Title VII and “participation” in a Title VII investigation – both actions explicitly protected by Title VII.  Crawford argued that Metro violated both the “opposition” and “protection” clauses of Title VII when it discharged her for cooperating in its investigation. 

READ THE FULL STORY

Crawford lawsuit costs Metro another $333,000
Nashville Post, E. Thomas Wood, April 13, 2010

Friday was payday at the family-run law firm of Steiner & Steiner in Nashville. And the money came from Metro taxpayers.

U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell awarded some $453,000 in legal fees to the attorneys who represented former Metro Nashville Public Schools payroll coordinator Vicky S. Crawford in her wrongful-termination lawsuit, which resulted in a $1.56 million jury verdict in favor of Crawford on January 25.

Campbell also reduced the damages awarded to Crawford by $120,000, ruling that the jury gave her more than the law allowed. The net increase in cost to the city comes to about $333,000, with further amounts for interest and expenses yet to be determined.

The court approved about $253,000 in billings by lead attorney Ann Buntin Steiner, $17,000 by her brother Frank J. Steiner, and $183,000 by Eric Schnapper, the University of Washington legal professor who presented oral arguments on behalf of Crawford when the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2008.

READ THE FULL STORY

Tenn. woman awarded $1.5M for wrongful firing
Boston.com, Associated Press, January 25, 2010

A federal jury awarded a former Nashville schools employee about $1.5 million on Monday after the woman claimed she was wrongfully terminated when she cooperated in a sexual harassment investigation of a school official.

Former Metro Schools Payroll Coordinator Vicky Crawford claimed she was fired in 2003 after more than 30 years with the district because she cooperated in the investigation. Crawford sought lost wages, future lost wages and pension benefits.

Her lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge and upheld on appeal. Last January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Crawford could sue claiming retaliation even though she was not the one who brought the original sexual harassment claims.

The case was sent back to U.S. District Court in Nashville for trial, which was held last week.

READ THE FULL STORY