This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a motion to dismiss in the case of DeMasters v. Carilion Clinic, reviving the Title VII retaliation claim of an employee assistance program consultant who was terminated.
The EAP consultant, DeMasters, provided counseling to an employee that told DeMasters that he was being sexually harassed at work. After intervening several times on behalf of the employee and conveying his concerns about the Company’s inadequate responses, Mr. DeMasters was criticized for not taking the Company’s side on this matter and because Mr. DeMasters had placed the company in a difficult position. Two days after being criticized for his involvement in helping the employee assert sexual harassment claims, the Company terminated DeMasters’ employment.
The employer argued that DeMasters had never engaged in protected activity under Title VII and that even if he had, the “manager rule” would preclude his claims. The “manager rule,” a defense applicable to FLSA retaliation claims and adopted in some non-precedential circuit court Title VII opinions, provides a defense to a retaliation claim where the complaining employee has a job duty to relay complaints by another employee to the Company.
The Court recognized that although some courts have relied on the “manager rule,” application of such a standard is not consistent with the purpose of Title VII. Permitting employers to escape liability under this defense would discourage employees from opposing unlawful employment practices, which would run counter to the chief purpose of Title VII to eliminate discrimination in the workplace. In its opinion, the court rejects wholesale the application of the manager rule in Title VII retaliation cases.
The defense argued that rejection of the “manager rule” would open up a floodgate of litigation if any employee whose job it is to report discrimination could be found to have a retaliation claim for having done his or her job. But the court expressed far more concern with the chilling effect application of the rule might have on employees who need to oppose unlawful practices when they occur.