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PJC Asserts Rights of Workers to Prove Illegal, Discriminatory Motives in the Workplace

On July 30, 2009, the PJC filed a friend of the court brief in Ruffin v. Gasper in the Maryland Court of Appeals.  The amicus brief supported Kathleen Gasper, an employee who claimed her manager at the Ruffin Hotel fired her because she complained that a co-worker was sexually harassing her.  Ms. Gasper's manager had previously revealed to her that he had been accused of sexual harassment and retaliation, and was keeping a "list" of people he wanted to take revenge on because they had supported the other employee.  Ms. Gasper asserted that the same manager then began retaliating against her for making a similar complaint, and she wanted to put in evidence about the manager's prior retaliatory acts and motive in her case to explain that her marginalization at work was not "poor performance" but stemmed in large part from her real fear of retaliation by the manager.  However, the trial court ruled that she could not put in any evidence of the manager's past "bad acts."

On appeal, the amicus brief, drafted by PJC legal intern Rachel Cohen and Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Matthew Hill, urged the Court to recognize that specific acts of illegal discrimination and retaliation are oftentimes shaped by workplace culture.  Evidence of that culture, including how the employer has responded to previous allegations of illegal discrimination and retaliation, will normally be crucial to any jury attempting to discern the motives of various workplace actors, including whether a victim-employee was terminated for "poor performance" or legitimately feared ongoing illegal harassment and retaliation for her complaint.  The Maryland Employment Lawyers Association and Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association joined the PJC as amici on the brief.

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