Crawford Analysis

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In Crawford v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson County, Tennessee, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that protection under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act extends to an employee who speaks out about discrimination when answering questions during an employer’s internal investigation.

Vicky Crawford was an employee of Metro for over 30 years. In 2002, Veronica Frazier, a Human Resources employee, conducted an internal investigation regarding allegations of “inappropriate behavior” by the relations director, Gene Hughes. Frazier asked Crawford if she had witnessed any “inappropriate behavior” by Hughes. Crawford told Frazier that Hughes had asked to see her breasts on numerous occasions, grabbed his genitals in front of her and, on one occasion, and pulled her head down towards his crotch. The employer took no action against Hughes; however, a few months later Crawford and two other accusers were terminated. The employer alleged that it terminated Crawford and the other accusers because they embezzled money.

Crawford brought a lawsuit against her employer for retaliation in violation of Title VII. The district court ruled for the employer and the 6th Circuit affirmed the decision, holding that Crawford did not “oppose” the harassment under Title VII because she had not “instigated or initiated a complaint” and no EEOC charge had been filed.

However, the Supreme Court found the embezzlement allegation was completely unfounded and unsupported. In addition, the Court rejected the Circuit Court’s reasoning that Crawford’s actions did not qualify as “opposition” because she had not “instigated or initiated any complaint.” The Court applied the ordinary meaning to “opposition” finding that it merely means to “resist or antagonize” and that Crawford’s statement to Frazier clearly fell within that definition. As a result, the Court reversed the 6th Circuit’s decision granting judgment for the employer and sent the case back to the 6th Circuit to be decided in accordance with the Court’s analysis.