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Lifeguard Fails on Claim He Was Wrongly Fired Based on Sex Harassment Complaints

Joe Redmon worked as a lifeguard for the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington for many years and was promoted to the position of Aquatic Coordinator. As part of his Coordinator duties, he was required to counsel and discipline other lifeguards as well as prepare formal disciplinary reports. During his tenure, a female lifeguard was found to have fabricated a sexual harassment claim against him after he disciplined her; he was exonerated. Although a supervisor, Redmon still performed regular lifeguard duties and engaged in the usual social interaction with the other lifeguards “including jokes and banter of a sexual nature.”

On April 30, 2018, YMCA management let Redmon know that an anonymous sexual harassment allegation had been made against him by a female lifeguard. Redmon claimed that the YMCA did share any details about the allegation. Still, Redmon denied any misconduct. The YMCA placed him on leave pending an investigation. Four days later, Redmon was fired without investigation or explanation. He claimed that the YMCA made no attempt to get his side of events and that there was no formal policy for handling sexual harassment complaints.

Redmon sued the YMCA claiming discrimination on the basis of sex. The parties agreed that Redmon was a member of a protected class and that he suffered an adverse employment action. The disagreement came over whether his termination gave rise to an inference of discrimination. Redmon claimed that the alleged incident of sexual harassment was just one incident in a longstanding workplace practice of sexual banter among the lifeguards. According to Redmon, the female lifeguards participated in the same banter without suffering any adverse consequences. Redmon alleged that he was fired because he is a man and the other lifeguards are women, thus the YMCA must be motivated by discriminatory animus.

The federal district court found flaws in Redmon’s arguments. While acknowledging that it was possible Redmon had been fired because he was male, Redmon was ignoring critical facts including the fact that he was a supervisor. While all the lifeguards may have been engaged in the inappropriate sexual banter, it was more likely that Redmon was fired because he was the supervisor rather than because he was male. That this was not the first complaint made about him, even if discredited, was also relevant according to the district court. No other male lifeguards had been terminated. Lastly, even if the allegations against Redmon were false, the YMCA was entitled to choose not to investigate as a business decision and side with the subordinates so long as not motivated by an improper animus.