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Retaliation Claim Based on Slurs Against Non-Citizens May Proceed

Viktorya Reznik worked as a Director of Project Management for inContact in Utah. It offers cloud-based services to companies using call centers. Reznik received workplace complaints from two Filipino employees based in inContact’s Manila, Philippines office. The employees stated an inContact manager located in Utah subjected them to racial slurs, referring to them as “monkeys” and “not human.” The employees further stated the harassment became “so extreme and pervasive that it was interfering with their performance as well as their physical and emotional well-being.” Reznik relayed these complaints to her immediate supervisor and Human Resources. A few weeks later, her supervisor and Human Resources notified Reznik that the company was terminating her employment, saying she was “not a good culture fit” Reznik filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII.

A federal district court dismissed her case, finding she failed to show an objectively reasonable belief that she opposed unlawful conduct under Title VII. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal. Reznik had to show that she had a subjective good faith and objectively reasonable belief that the conduct she opposed violated Title VII. She did not have to show that the opposed conduct actually violated Title VII. Title VII did not protect the employees as they worked outside of the United States. The court assessed what standard should be used to decide whether Reznik had a reasonable belief, noting “[a]n employee is not an expert in hostile work environment law.” It is well established that Title VII’s protection against retaliation stands “whether or not an actual [Title VII] violation has occurred.” Given the severity and pervasiveness of the supervisor’s conduct, the court stated a reasonable employee could believe the conduct violated Title VII and not be familiar with the statute’s exceptions. If the Manila-based employees had been covered, the conduct likely would have violated Title VII.