EEOC v. Rite Way Serv.

819 F.3d 235 (2016)

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EEOC v. Rite Way Serv.

United States District Court for the Fifth Circuit
819 F.3d 235 (2016)

Facts

Mekeva Tennort worked as a cleaner at a middle school for Rite Way Service, Inc. (Rite Way) (defendant) for two years before an outgoing supervisor was temporarily replaced by Willie Harris. Tennort had just been rehired for the new school year and received a pamphlet explaining that sexual harassment would not be tolerated. During Harris’s first week, Tennort witnessed him pretend to hit Linda Quarles on her rear end and make a catcall-type utterance. In addition, Tennort witnessed Harris telling Quarles that her pants were tight and that, as a man, he would be observing. Quarles reported the incident and listed Tennort as a witness. Rite Way sent a representative to question Tennort. The representative tried to convince Tennort not to corroborate Quarles’s story, insinuating that something would happen. Nevertheless, Tennort gave a written report. Rite Way then transferred Harris but replaced him with his brother-in-law, who told Tennort on his first day that she worked in an at-will state and would not receive unemployment benefits when she was terminated. Then, within five weeks, Tennort was written up four times for infractions such as not cleaning well and insubordination. Tennort had never been written up in two years of employment. Tennort was terminated, and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) (plaintiff) filed an antiretaliation claim on her behalf. Rite Way moved for summary judgment, which a federal district court granted on the basis that Tennort had not engaged in a protected activity under Title VII, Title VII’s reasonable-belief standard applied to Tennort as a third-party witness, and she could not have reasonably believed that a Title VII violation had occurred. The EEOC appealed, arguing that the opposition clause of Title VII’s antiretaliation provision protected Tennort. Rite Way asserted that Tennort’s termination was in response to customer complaints it received regarding areas that Tennort cleaned.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Costa, J.)

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