The Supreme Court vs. discrimination

Sheila White says her employer unfairly retaliated against her after she filed a gender-based -discrimination complaint. And the justices agree!

Published June 23, 2006 12:25AM (EDT)

Hey, check out the Supreme Court! Today the justices unanimously ruled in favor Sheila White, a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway worker who experienced gender-based discrimination and retaliation for complaining about the unfair treatment. The always-helpful SCOTUSBlog breaks the decision down this way: "The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that a worker complaining of retaliation on the job for having complained about bias may sue even if that individual has not suffered an ultimate adverse action such as firing or denial of promotion. Reassignment to a less attractive job or a temporary suspension without pay can constitute retaliation, the Court said in deciding Burlington Northern v. White (05-259)."

The New York Times also provides some of the case's infuriating details. White was "made to feel very unwelcome as the only woman working in the maintenance department of a railroad yard in Memphis," reporter David Stout writes. When White wanted to work as a forklift operator, "some of the men complained that a forklift was no place for a woman and made insulting remarks to that effect. The offenders included her supervisor, who was suspended by the railroad for 10 days and ordered to undergo training to correct his sexually harassing ways."

Following White's complaint, she was removed from forklift duty and even suspended for insubordination (though the company eventually recanted, reinstating White and providing back pay for the days of her suspension). A jury awarded her $43,000, a decision the high court upheld today.

The Times notes that "in so doing, [the court] broadened the protections for workers who sue their employers for retaliation after lodging complaints."

Increased protection for workers and a smackdown for sexist supervisors. I wish I felt this warm and fuzzy about the Supreme Court every day.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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