How One Mistake Can Cause a Sexual Harassment Victim to Lose Her Case

posted by Stuart G. Torch | October 27, 2016 in Employment Law

Graves worked as a lead nurse anesthetist until she requested to leave the position because she wanted to focus on patient care and avoid the extra work and responsibility required by the management role. Graves remained the lead nurse until February 2013 when Schum, whom Graves had worked with since May 2012, temporarily assumed the position. Graves and Schum periodically exchanged text messages. In January 2013, Graves texted Schum about how she was enjoying her vacation and how it was nice to not have to do anything. Schum responded, “I [sic] happy for you, you just have fun and wild sex.” Graves was offended by this message and felt it was inappropriate and unprofessional, but she did not convey this to Schum. A week later, Schum texted Graves again, apparently out of the blue, saying, “You and your husband lay out a wonderful dinner an [sic] have wild sex on the table!!!!!  I do think about sex all the time.  I [sic] just not getting it.” Graves reported both inappropriate text messages to the CEO who then spoke with Schum. Schum apologized to Graves and sought to discuss the matter with her, but she refused. Thereafter, Schum addressed her curtly, refused to respond to her questions about work assignments, would not relieve her from her duties despite regularly relieving other employees, gave her the most difficult assignments, denied her lunch breaks on several occasions, threw a chart at her, failed to provide her with updated work schedules, and denied her requests for days off. Schum told Graves that she brought this upon herself by reporting the text messages and threatened that this treatment would continue/get worse. Graves resigned and started a new job since it was “unbearable” for her to continue working at Dayton Gastroenterology. Graves filed a brought suit against Schum and the employer for discrimination based on her gender by creating a hostile work environment, but she did not include a retaliation claim.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s granting of summary judgment to the employer, finding that Schum’s behavior might have formed the basis of a successful retaliation claim, but declined to stretch the hostile-work environment analysis to fit what was essentially a retaliation claim. The Court found that Graves described the comments as unprofessional and the text messages “did not contain gender-specific epithets nor were they explicitly sexual or patently degrading of women.” The text messages, according the Court, were isolated incidents that do not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of employment.

It is important to have an attorney who is able to correctly identify your claims so that you can win your case. Contact Elfvin, Klingshirn, Royer & Torch, LLC if you would like for us to review your potential claims.

This is general legal information and is not offered as specific legal advice.  Do not rely on this information to make decisions about your rights.  If you have questions about potential overtime claims, contact an attorney.

Graves v. Dayton Gastroenterology, Inc., ___ Fed. Appx. ___ (6th Cir. Sept. 13, 2016)

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