NEW YORK, May 9 (Reuters) - Federal laws against employment
discrimination do not protect a human-resources officer who said
she was fired for conducting an internal investigation into a
sexual harassment claim, a U.S. appeals court ruled.
Karlean Grey-Allen, the human-resources officer at a
job-training company in New York, said she was fired in
retaliation for investigating a receptionist's allegations of
sexual harassment against the company's vice-president.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel at the 2nd U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled that Grey-Allen was not protected under
Title VII since she was fired prior to filing a formal complaint
with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated the
creation of the EEOC, which enforces the law's rules against
discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.
The panel's decision, which upheld a lower court ruling, was
a case of first impression for the circuit. It was written by
district judge John Koeltl, joined by appeals judge Debra Ann
Livingston, with a concurring opinion by Raymond Lohier.
Judge Lohier said he reluctantly agreed with his colleagues'
reading of Title VII's anti-retaliation provision, and called on
Congress to update the law to fill in a "statutory gap" on
"The distinction between investigations in which the
government is involved and internal investigations strikes me as
antiquated and arbitrary," Lohier said.
The case was filed in 2005 in Manhattan federal court by
Grey-Allen and the receptionist, Martha Townsend, against
Benjamin Enterprises, Inc, its vice-president Hugh Benjamin and
his wife, Michelle Benjamin, who was the company's president.
The magistrate judge overseeing the case dismissed
Grey-Allen's claims under Title VII, but Townsend was awarded
$30,400 in 2008 after winning a jury trial. The judge also
awarded Townsend $141,308 in attorneys fees.
The case raised a second question of first impression for
the court: Whether, under Title VII, the alleged behavior of an
official at a company could also be imputed to the company
itself. On cross-appeal, the defendants said the company could
not be held liable. The appeals court disagreed.
Since "the alleged harasser is the employer's proxy or alter
ego," the company was correctly held liable for Benjamin's
behavior, the appeals court judges said.
Stephen Bergstein, who represents Townsend and Grey-Allen,
said he was pleased with the opinion.
The court's proxy finding was "really important for sex
harassment plaintiffs," Bergstein said.
Richard Kass, an attorney for the Benjamin defendants, did
not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The case is Martha Diane Townsend et al v. Benjamin
Enterprises et al, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit,
For Townsend and Grey-Allen: Stephen Bergstein of Bergstein
& Ullrich in Chester, New York.
For Benjamin Enterprises et al: Richard Kass and Amy Culver
of Bond, Schoeneck & King in New York.
(Reporting By Basil Katz)
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