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Supreme Court to Examine Sex Harassment in a School District Central Office

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to take up a case stemming from allegations of sexual harassment in a school district central office.

The question in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Case No. 06-1595) is whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects a worker from being dismissed because she cooperated with her employer's internal investigation.

The appeal was brought by Vicky S. Crawford, who worked with Gene Hughes, the director of employee relations for the Metro Nashville school district. According to court papers, the Metro Nashville/Davidson County government, which includes the school district, began an investigation after receiving allegations that Hughes was harassing women in his office.

Crawford did not initiate the complaint about Hughes, but she cooperated with the inquiry and told investigators about crude sexually related comments that Hughes allegedly made, including to her, court papers say.

Within a few months, Crawford was fired from her job. She sued under an anti-retaliation provision of Title VII, but she lost in both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati.

The Bush administration urged the Supreme Court to take up the case, arguing in a brief that Title VII protects those who cooperate with internal investigations from retaliation.

Crawford also drew the support of the Tennessee Education Association and the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, which argued in a joint brief that the case "implicates the employment interests of teachers and others who may be called upon to testify or provide information in internal investigations of discrimination and harassment."

The Metro government of Nashville and Davidson County had urged the court not to accept the case for review, arguing that "participation in an in-house sexual harassment investigation, not undertaken while any [Equal Employment Opportuntiy Commission] charge is pending, is not a protected activity under Title VII."

The Supreme Court granted review of Crawford's appeal today on an expedited basis, meaning it could be heard in April, during the court's last argument session of the current term. But over at SCOTUSBlog, Lyle Denniston notes that not all the cases granted today will necessarily be argued this term, and that some may be carried over until next fall. (And thanks to SCOTUSBlog for the links to the briefs.)

The Supreme Court has decided at least one other case stemming from alleged sexual harassment in a school district central office. In Clark County School District v. Breeden in 2001, the court issued an unsigned opinion that reiterated its view that a single incident in which an employee makes a sexually explicit comment does not constitute illegal sex discrimination under Title VII.

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