Retaliation Claim, Based on Supporting Co-Worker’s Complaint of Sexual Harassment, Survives Summary Judgment

In Buck v. Thycotic Software, LLC, No. 2:20-cv-01721-BJR, 2022 WL 3975140 (W.D.Wash. Sept. 1, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s retaliation claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In sum, the male plaintiff (Buck) asserts that he was subject to retaliatory termination following his expression of support for a female colleague (Fazio) who believed she was subject to sexual harassment at work.

As to whether plaintiff engaged in “protected activity,” the court explained:

Buck testified that, following the Slack exchange, he had two conversations with Fazio during which she explicitly told him that she felt sexually harassed by Sprunk’s “inappropriate language, comments on her appearance during calls,” and “words and jokes that made her very uncomfortable.” See Buck Dep. Tr. at 51:22-52:14, 53:17-54:22, 58:1-25. During each of those conversations, according to Buck, he advised her to elevate her complaints – first, to her manager, and then, to Human Resources. See id. at 56:1-57:6, 58:1-25. While Fazio did not recall those conversations having taken place, she testified that Buck was “pivotal” in encouraging her to report her complaints about Sprunk to Human Resources. See Fazio Dep Tr. at 83:25-84:10. The Court finds that, based on this evidence, a reasonable juror could conclude that Plaintiff supported Fazio in reporting Sprunk’s sexual harassment and that, by doing so, he had a reasonable belief that he was opposing a discriminatory practice. Accordingly, there is a genuine issue as to whether Plaintiff undertook a protected activity under Title VII.

The court further held that there was a triable issue as to the element of causation, holding that “a reasonable juror could infer from Fazio’s letter that [defendant] suspected that Buck’s conversations with Fazio … included him supporting her to formally complain about sexual harassment.”

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