Thursday, July 19, 2018
Thanks to Jon Harkavy for once again alerting us to an important case out of the Fourth Circuit. The case is Savage v. State of Maryland. Part III of the opinion deals with a Title VII retaliation claim by a public employee. The Court denies an interesting claim with esoteric issues galore by holding simply that even if the defendants are subject to Title VII liability, there cannot be actionable retaliation here. That is because no reasonable employee could believe that exposure to the most odious racial epithets violates Title VII when it is part of the employee's job in preparing for trial to listen to potential witness statements being read by the state's attorney. [The plaintiff here is a police officer who attended a trial preparation meeting where the state's attorney read potential witness letters containing the epithets.] When plaintiff complained about a hostile environment, the attorney allegedly retaliated against him by refusing to use him as a witness. The Fourth Circuit holds that context matters when an employee is, in the course of his job, exposed to the most offensive racial slurs.