In February 2021, NWLC completed the resolution of a sex harassment and disability discrimination (failure to accommodate) matter that resulted in critical policy changes. This included Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) related policy changes and training requirements, changes in how the employer would address sexual harassment complaints, and a monetary resolution. NWLC applauds the bravery and courage of Ms. N for bringing these issues forward and her efforts to seek justice for herself and others who will benefit from the outcome of this matter. NWLC is grateful to our law firm partners Ellwanger Law LLLP who represented the client on her parallel sexual harassment claim in federal court (Civ. No. 2:20-cv-02258 (W.D. Tenn.) along with local counsel, Donati Law PLLC. We also thank Cohen and Gresser, LLP for partnership during the agency investigation of the underlying EEOC sexual harassment charge.
During this global pandemic, and in all times, it is crucial that employees are reminded about their workplace civil rights protections including against sexual harassment and disability discrimination. Employers must take actions to prevent and address sexual harassment, and provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities as required by the ADA.
In 2018, after an intake application to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, NWLC represented Ms. N. at the EEOC, first with her sex harassment and retaliation charge, and subsequently with filing a charge of disability discrimination and retaliation, against the Shelby County Division of Corrections.
Ms. N had first raised complaints of sex harassment internally to her employer and made multiple attempts at getting management to respond. When that did not result in changes, she coordinated to get about 100 female employees to sign a petition asking management to address the sexual harassment. The federal court complaint filed by Ellwanger Law LLLP also recounts the retaliation she faced as a result of fighting the sexual harassment, including being passed over for a promotion, and being subject to unwarranted disciplinary investigations.
As Ms. N was fighting sexual harassment at work, she was also requesting disability related accommodations, the need for which were in part a direct result of the sex harassment. The disability discrimination included that despite providing clear notice of her disabilities and the need for accommodations, her employer did not offer her reasonable accommodations. Instead, the employer initiated numerous disciplinary investigations against her related to her disability related leave. The employer also denied her leave to attend a union-related training, citing her disability related leave as the reason that request was denied.
As part of this negotiated resolution, the Shelby County Division of Corrections agreed to:
- Clarify its policy relating to sexual harassment;
- Amend its ADA and leave related policies,
- Ensure that all employees were trained on their rights to request disability related accommodations; and
- Ensure that managers and supervisors were aware of their obligation to engage in an interactive process in response to requests for disability related accommodations.
Corrections facilities can be particularly difficult workplaces, rife with sexual harassment. Far too often, we see women, and particularly Black women like Ms. N, bearing the burden of challenging discrimination at work. This burden can come with severe consequences, like workplace retaliation, or economic or health consequences. Our recent report found that between 2012 and 2016, per 100,000 women workers, Black women filed sexual harassment charges with the EEOC at nearly 3 times the rate of white, non-Hispanic women. More than 1 in 3 (35.8 percent) women who filed charges alleging sexual harassment also alleged retaliation.
NWLC was proud to represent Ms. N to resolve this matter and is steadfast in our resolve to fight workplace discrimination including based on sex and disability, because we know that women experience discrimination at the intersection of many identities.
If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work and need help connecting to a lawyer, you can submit an intake to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund maintains resource lists for workers who may have experienced sexual harassment at work, including resources for mental health support.
If you are an attorney looking for resources on representing clients in sex discrimination matters at the intersection of multiple identities, Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund maintains webinar recordings, available here.