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Mechanic’s Harassment Claim Revived By Tenth Circuit

Shane Jones was a mechanic for Needham Trucking, LLC (Needham) for approximately seven months in 2014.  Jones alleged that Needham fired him because he refused to have sex with his direct supervisor, who was also a shareholder of the Company.  Jones v. Needham, No. 16-6156 (10th Cir. May 12, 2017).

In filings with the EEOC, Jones claimed sex discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment.  Jones also stated that another mechanic — who did have sex with the supervisor/shareholder — was treated better than he was.  Jones’ charge claimed that he was “subjected to sexual remarks by” Needham’s owner; he complained to Needham’s general manager and others about the harassment; and nothing was done.  Ultimately, Jones was fired.

He alleged that Needham did not tell him why he was fired or why he was treated the way he was.  Jones filed suit alleging sexual harassment and a number of state law claims.  Jones’ harassment claim was presented as both a hostile work environment claim and a quid pro quo harassment claim.  Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employee suffers an adverse employment action for refusing a supervisor’s demand for sex.  Hostile work environment harassment is conduct so severe or pervasive that it creates a work environment a reasonable person would, and the plaintiff did, consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Needham Trucking and Jones’ supervisor moved to dismiss all of Jones’ claims except for his hostile work environment claim.  The district court dismissed Jones’ claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment, concluding that he had failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

On appeal, Needham argued that the facts Jones alleged in his administrative charge were insufficient to put the Company on notice of Jones’ quid pro quo harassment claim.  The appellate court concluded that Needham was splitting hairs — Jones had sufficiently alleged sexual harassment and was not required to specifically and separately allege hostile work environment sexual harassment and quid pro quo sexual harassment.  Jones checked the boxes for sex discrimination and retaliation, and included allegations about the sex-based treatment he endured.  That was enough for Jones to have exhausted his administrative remedies.

The Tenth Circuit panel explained that Jones’ allegations satisfied the purpose of the exhaustion requirement — to put the charged party on notice of the alleged violation and to give the EEOC an opportunity to conciliate. Jones checked the appropriate boxes and included enough in his charge to overcome Needham’s argument.

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