Court Denies Summary Judgment To Defendant in Georgia Sexual Harassment Case

On November 10, 2014, Federal District Court Judge W. Louis Sands of the Middle District of Georgia denied summary judgment to the defendant in Turner v. Parker Security and Investigative Services, Inc. (“Parker”), finding that the plaintiff had introduced genuine disputes of material fact.

Parker employed plaintiff Latrecia Turner as a security guard at a Sourthern Ag Carriers, Inc. (“Southern Ag”) facility in Blakely, Georgia from May, 2011 through January, 2012. On January 6, 2012, after her supervisor told Turner that she had violated company policy by using her cell phone at work, Turner informed her that she had used the cell phone to discourage Southern Ag drivers from sexually harassing her. That same day, Turner met with Parker District Manager Ricky Reynolds to discuss her complaints about continuous sexual harassment by Southern Ag workers, and Reynolds in turn discussed those complaints with the Director of Operations from Southern ag.

Southern Ag then informed Parker that Turner would not be allowed to return to work at their Blakely facility because the drivers had denied her allegations. On January 10, 2012, her supervisor informed Turner that she was being trasferred to a different Parker facility in Cuthbert, Georgia, about thirty miles away from Blakely. Turner rejected the new position because she did not have reliable transportation, and Parker then terminated her.

Noting that the Plaintiff’s only claims pertained to retaliation rather than harassment, the Court decided to “…apply only Title VII retaliation law in analyizing Parker’s Motion for Summary Judgment.” Under Title VII, it is unlawful “for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees…because [that employee] opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice [by Title VII].”

The court concluded that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Turner engaged in protected activity. There was no dispute as to whether she had complained about sexual harassment to her supervisors, that she had used her cell phone in an attempt to avoid interacting with the drivers she complained about, or that she had reason to believe the behavior about which she complained was in fact harassment.

The court also resolved the question the whether the company had taken ad adverse employment action. Parker might have argued that Turner had reported on her application that she had access to reliable transportation, making her transfer to a different work site not burdensome enough to qualify as an “adverse” action. However, the court noted that transfer can be an adverse employment action, depending on the employee’s circumstances. In this case, since Turner earned $7.40 per hour and could not afford a new means of transportation to the Cuthbert site, the court concluded that “Parker’s making the transfer mandatory after learning that Turner did not have reliable transportation constituted a materially adverse employment action.”

Finally, Parker claimed to have a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for transferring Turner: to protect her from harassment by the Southern Ag drivers. But the court seemed skeptical about this claim, finding no support for it in the deposition testimony, and concluded that this would be (at best) a factual question for a jury to consider.

If you believe your employer has retaliated against you for complaining about sexual harassment or discrimination, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.