Alabama Federal Court Sides With Employer on Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Last week the Northern District of Alabama granted an employer’s, Greene County Hospital Board, motion for summary judgment in Wennoa Peebles’ sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation case. Peebles, an accounts clerk for Greene County Hospital, was fired from her position after filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  In the charge, Peebles claimed the CEO of the hospital, Elmore Patterson, created a hostile work environment for the hospital’s female employees. She claimed that Patterson would often make sexual remarks about the bodies of the women who worked there and would demean them with comments suggesting they were intellectually inferior.

In determining whether a plaintiff has experienced actionable sexual harassment, the judge will first consider whether the plaintiff met the burden of proving that the sexual harassment and discrimination was so severe and pervasive that it created a hostile work environment.  This is a high standard for an employee to meet and Courts require more than just isolated comments.  Moreover, in considering whether the plaintiff was retaliated against after making a complaint about the discrimination or harassment, the Court will consider how soon the plaintiff was fired after the complaint was made and whether the employer had a justifiable reason for firing the plaintiff.

In Peebles’ case, the judge found that Peebles did not meet either test. The judge reasoned that despite Patterson’s actions being rude and seemingly inappropriate, they did not rise to the level of severe or pervasive. Furthermore, the judge found that the hospital had a legitimate reason for firing Peebles and so her firing was not likely a retaliatory adverse employment action.

While the burden to prove discrimination and harassment falls on the plaintiff and the standard for such cases can be hard to meet, they can be won. Our Birmingham, Alabama employment law firm has handled a number of sexual discrimination and harassment cases throughout the State of Alabama. If you feel you may have suffered discrimination or harassment please contact us at (205) 588-0699 for a free consultation to discuss your potential case.

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