Virginia Federal Court Grants Directed Verdict in Title VII Retaliation Case
Attorneys David Klass and Travis Vance obtained a rare judgment as a matter of law, commonly known as a directed verdict, in a sexual harassment and retaliation case brought in the Western District of Virginia.
In the lawsuit, Thomas Dooley, a former employee of Capstone Logistics, LLC, claimed that his male supervisor sexually harassed him. Then, once he complained to the supervisor’s boss, the site manager, he was fired in retaliation for making the complaint. Dooley alleged he was sexually harassed because the supervisor made a sexually-tinged joke to him, allegedly winked and “effeminately” waved at him daily, and allegedly pinched his buttocks on one occasion. Dooley claimed he complained about the alleged sexual harassment, and then, once the supervisor discovered the complaint, made up or exaggerated two incidents where Dooley threatened the supervisor with violence in order to have the site manager fire him.
Klass obtained summary judgment for Capstone on the sexual harassment claim, persuading the court that there was no evidence that the alleged conduct was directed at Dooley “because of sex” as required under Title VII. The alleged harasser testified that he was straight, and Dooley’s only asserted evidence to the contrary was his own speculation based upon the supervisor’s mannerisms and his own antipathy to gay men.
The retaliation claim went to a jury trial. On cross examination, Vance introduced evidence in Dooley’s case-in-chief that Dooley had made a verbal threat of violence to the supervisor, that Dooley had been banned from the work site by a third party for physically threatening the supervisor by driving a large commercial vehicle dangerously close to him, and that the site manager had fired Dooley for threatening the supervisor. Additionally, Dooley failed to designate any deposition testimony from the site manager or supervisor and failed to subpoena them for trial. After calling the plaintiff and one witness, who confirmed the verbal altercation, Dooley rested.
Klass argued the motion for a judgment as a matter of law, pointing out that was there no evidence that the supervisor was involved in the decision to terminate Dooley and that there was no evidence that he even knew of Dooley’s complaint to the site manager about the alleged sexual harassment. Not only was there no evidence of a retaliatory motive in the record, there was evidence that Capstone had terminated Dooley for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason: threatening his supervisor. The court agreed and issued judgment to Capstone prior to the company presenting its case.