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Sex Discrimination and an Anti-Fraternization Policy

Before 2017, Koch Foods had an anti-fraternization policy that prohibited supervisors and managers from “engag[ing] in intimate relationships with anyone under their direct or indirect supervision.” In 2014, Shawnetta Collins was a human resources manager for the company when she began dating the plant manager, Johnny Gill, at her facility. The relationship was not in violation of the policy, nevertheless, Collins disclosed the relationship to her supervisor. This supervisor was dating a subordinate and ended up resigning from his position. Collins applied for her supervisor’s position when it opened up. Koch's management learned about her relationship with Gill and questioned them about it. Following the questioning, an outside candidate was hired for her manager’s position and Collins was transferred to another facility.

Koch then issued a new anti-fraternization policy that precluded dating relationships where the manager could influence the terms or conditions of employment of the significant other and expressly prevented human resource managers from dating anyone who worked in the same facility. Collins again applied for her former supervisor’s position when it opened up and was again rejected. Gill meanwhile was promoted to plant manager of both Collins’ old and current facility. After Gill and Collins got married, Collins was called in to confirm her marriage and then she was fired.

In the ensuing litigation, a Koch company representative asserted that Gill had more value in his high-level position and that Collins, as a human resources manager, was held to a higher standard. Collins alleged that she was discriminated against based on her sex. The federal district court reviewed the case. It found that Koch’s decision not to interview Collins for the promotion and the difference in the way Collins and Gill were treated could reflect a pretext for discrimination or at least a motivating factor. Collin’s prior male supervisor (who was allowed to resign) and Gill seemingly were treated more favorably than was Collins. The case may proceed to trial.