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Employee Not Required to Specify Type of Sex Harassment

Two types of sexual harassment have been identified as prohibited by Title VII: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that employees do not have to specify which type of harassment they are experiencing for an investigation to be triggered.

Needham Trucking hired Bryan Jones as a mechanic in 2014. His direct supervisor, who was also a shareholder of the business, allegedly told him that she expected Mr. Jones to have sex with her. When he refused, Mr. Jones was terminated. He went to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a Charge of Discrimination. On that Charge, Mr. Jones marked the boxes for “Sex” and “Retaliation” and handwrote out “sex har[as]ment.” He also noted that another mechanic who did have sex with the supervisor was treated better.

Before the Tenth Circuit, Needham Trucking argued that the facts alleged on the Charge did not give it sufficient notice of a quid pro quo claim. Quid pro quo means a “tangible employment action resulted from a refusal to submit to a supervisor’s sexual demands.” Relying on Supreme Court statements cautioning that the two types of sexual harassment are not completely distinct claims, the circuit court found that Needham had been given sufficient notice. EEOC Charges must only “describe generally” the discrimination being alleged so that the employer has notice of a possible violation. Beyond the boxes checked, Mr. Jones had also noted that he was “subjected to sexual remarks,” that he was terminated by the harasser, and that no reason was given for her termination. That information was found to be sufficient to put the company on notice and trigger an investigation that could connect the events as quid pro quo discrimination.