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Warnings to lie low supported retaliation claim

A female former fundraiser for Virginia Tech presented enough evidence to support a jury verdict that the university had retaliated against her in violation of Title VII, a federal appellate panel said on Jan. 31.

Shana Maron, one of three female fundraisers who sued, alleged that when she sought a promotion with a higher salary, a male supervisor suggested she was not eligible for the salary previously paid because the person she wanted to follow “was the head of his household and had mouths to feed,” and that’s why he had earned a higher salary. She also testified that the male supervisor told her that hiring someone like Maron, who was “young, newly married” and in “child-bearing years” would be a “liability” because she might be out of work for a “significant” time.

When the case went to trial the first time, a jury found for Maron and awarded her $25,000 on her wage claim and $61,000 on her retaliation claim. Senior U.S. District Judge James C. Turk set aside the verdicts, entered judgment for Virginia Tech on Maron’s retaliation claim and granted a new trial on two of the plaintiffs’ claims. They came up empty-handed after retrial, and appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the university argued that Maron had suffered only “petty slights.”

The 4th Circuit panel disagreed. Three sets of circumstances after Maron complained of sex discrimination supported the original jury decision for her on her retaliation claim, the panel said in its unpublished opinion in Maron v. Virginia Polytechnic Inst. & State Univ.

In February 2008, Maron said, her supervisor, university vice president Elizabeth Flanagan, told Maron she had “shown very poor judgment” and she needed to “stop pursuing the things” she was pursuing or Maron would “ruin” her career “in a very public way.” Maron said Flanagan warned her that if Maron wanted to keep her job, she “needed to become invisible” and “stay off the radar for the next six months at a minimum.”

Maron also testified that, at one point, she expected to receive a promotion and raise, based on her “benchmark” achievements, but those “benchmarks” were “spontaneously changed” without cause to new markers not required of other employees.

Finally, Maron testified that when she used Family & Medical Leave Act time after she contracted mononucleosis, her supervisors attempted to replace her.

Although there was conflicting evidence at trial, the appellate standard required the evidence to be viewed in favor of Maron, who won the first round before the jury.

The district court erred in entering judgment for Virginia Tech on Maron’s retaliation claim, the appellate panel said. It remanded the case so Turk could consider whether to grant a new trial on the retaliation claim.

Virginia Tech won in appeals by two plaintiffs of the wage claim decision, as the appellate panel said the university had shown the pay disparities were attributable to permissible distinctions, such as education, prior work experience and prior compensation. The third plaintiff’s claim under the Equal Pay Act was time-barred.
–Deborah Elkins

2 comments

  1. It should say “lie low.”

  2. Thanks!

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