April 17, 2006, Washington, DC. Today the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway v. White. At issue is whether an employer may be held liable for retaliatory discrimination for any adverse treatment that would “reasonably likely to deter” an employee from engaging in protected activity.
This case involved a female employee who complained that her supervisor was sexually harassing her. After the employee reported the harassment she was transferred to a more physically difficult assignment and suspended for 37 days.
The Sixth Circuit held that the railroad’s actions against the employee were “materially adverse” actions. The Railroad is asking the Supreme Court overturn the Sixth Circuit’s ruling.
“All whistleblowers should be deeply concerned about the outcome of this case. If the Supreme Court reverses the Sixth Circuit’s decision, employers will be given the green light to harass whistleblowers with impunity” stated Stephen M. Kohn, Chairman of the National Whistleblowers Center.
The Supreme Court case is file 05-259. A decision is expected by July, 2006.