Wednesday Federal Employment Law Update- Hostile Work Environment

Hope everyone had a great day today.  Why does today’s post start with a photo from the 1996 movie, Primal Fear?  Well, below we will talk about a case involving a claim of a sexually hostile work environment against a Roman Catholic diocese.  Anytime I think of a sex scandal against the catholic church, I am instantly reminded of this underrated movie.   Want to talk about star power?  It starred Richard Gere before he started focusing on musicals, breakout performances by Edward Norton and Laura Linney, and a great ensemble cast of character actors — John Mahoney (from the TV hit Frasier), Maura Tierney (before her run at ER and a classic Elizabeth Perkins Hall of Famer, my name for actresses which I am not sure whether we are even SUPPOSED to think are beautiful), Andre Braugher (fromHomicide:  Life on the Street), and Alfre Woodard.

My only issues with the movie?  One, the title.  I don’t really get it.  And two, the murder victim in the movie is a famous Roman Catholic clergyman named Archbishop Rushman.  I’m sorry to throw generalizations out in an employment law blog, but without literally pointing out the problem here, it seems like “Archbishop Flaherty” or “Archbishop Lorenzo” may have been a slicker fit.  Yet I digress…

In Rojas v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, 2011 WL 4552460 (2d Cir. Oct. 4, 2011), the Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment on the Plaintiff’s claims of sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation against her former employer based on alleged harassment by a fellow employee.  Plaintiff sued the fellow employee as well, a priest, but did not appeal the summary judgment issued to him by the lower court.

The key issue in the case was the rampant inconsistencies in Plaintiff’s story between her complaint, her deposition testimony, and her sworn interrogatory responses.  In sum, there were key inconsistencies on the issues of 1) whether the priest was her supervisor (key for imputing liability to the employer); 2) the severity of the conduct; and 3) when and how she reported the conduct.  The inconsistencies were so egregious that the lower court held, and the 2nd Circuit agreed, that no genuine issue of material fact could be raised to defeat summary judgment.  Specifically, the Court held that, “in certain cases a party’s inconsistent and contradictory statements transcend credibility concerns and go to the heart of whether the party has raised genuine issues of material fact to be decided by a jury.  This is such a case.”

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