An employer’s failure to stop a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss in order to obtain a promotion can give rise to liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to a recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc.

Evangeline Parker was fired after complaining that male employees at Reema Consulting’s Virginia-based warehouse spread a false rumor that she was promoted because of a sexual relationship with a high-ranking male manager.  The facility’s highest-ranking manager allegedly not only knew of the gossip, but participated in spreading the rumor by discussing it at a group meeting and by blaming Parker for “bringing the rumor into the workplace.”

The District Court initially granted the employer’s motion to dismiss, ruling that although the workplace gossip was “truly offensive,” the rumor’s circulation was not based upon her gender and thus not unlawful under Title VII.  The Fourth Circuit disagreed and reversed, holding that because Parker “plausibly involved a deep rooted perception . . . that generally women, not men, use sex to achieve success” she adequately pleaded gender-based discrimination.  The Court also held that the conduct, as alleged, was sufficiently severe pervasive, as it persisted continuously for approximately two months.

Employers should be aware of their obligations to address potentially unlawful workplace rumors, and should consider training managers and human resources on how to take appropriate steps to stop such rumors without infringing on employees’ rights to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.  For a more complete discussion of this case, please see our publication by clicking here.

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Photo of Jeffrey M. Schlossberg Jeffrey M. Schlossberg

Jeffrey M. Schlossberg is a Principal in the Long Island, New York, Office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Schlossberg has devoted his entire career to the employment law field. He is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy…

Jeffrey M. Schlossberg is a Principal in the Long Island, New York, Office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Schlossberg has devoted his entire career to the employment law field. He is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals and is an editor of the firm’s EPL Risk Mitigation Blog.

Mr. Schlossberg has extensive experience in handling all aspects of the employer-employee relationship. Areas of concentration include: employment discrimination prevention and litigation; workplace harassment policy development and compliance; social media and information privacy in the workplace; family and medical leave; disability matters; wage and hour investigations and litigation; non-competition agreements; and corporate mergers and acquisitions.

Mr. Schlossberg has defended against claims such as sexual harassment, age, race, national origin and disability discrimination for public and private companies in industries such as media, technology, airline, aircraft components, restaurants, supermarkets, securities, medical, manufacturing, cosmetics, food processing, software, clothing, vitamins and nutritional products, and many other employers of varying size throughout the metropolitan area and across the country.

Mr. Schlossberg lectures frequently about various topics to trade and professional associations, such as the Hauppauge Industrial Association. Mr. Schlossberg is also an active member of the Nassau County Bar Association and is a Past Chair of the Nassau County Bar Association Labor & Employment Law Committee.

Mr. Schlossberg is an appointed member of the Employment Law Panel of arbitrators for National Arbitration and Mediation.