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Federal appeals court revives harassment, retaliation suit

It takes about a half-hour on Interstate 41 to drive from Milwaukee to suburban Menomonee Falls. The city is home to a factory owned by International Paper Co., the world’s biggest maker of pulp and paper.

A federal appeals court recently revived an employment lawsuit that had been dismissed last year. The suit was filed against International Paper by a worker who says she suffered sexual harassment and retaliation at a South Carolina factory.

The woman said her overtime work was eliminated after she told co-workers that a supervisor had been sexually harassing her for more than a decade. The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the cut in overtime work can be a "tangible employment action" that can be considered a hostile work environment under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The appeals court also found that because the plaintiff’s overtime was slashed right after she told co-workers of the supervisor’s gropes and propositions, a jury could determine that the company unlawfully retaliated against her, Reuters reports.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed an amicus brief, in which it stated that the judge who had previously tossed her case had incorrectly ruled that International Paper couldn’t be held liable because the woman had endured more than a decade of workplace mistreatment before complaining.

The woman and her employment law attorney said in the lawsuit that starting in 2003, a supervisor had regularly groped her, made lewd comments and offered her money for sex.

When she complained to the company that the supervisor had eliminated her overtime after learning the woman had told co-workers of his behavior, no discipline was administered to him. International Paper said it investigated her claims but found them without merit. They also said her hours and pay were not cut.

If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, harassment and retaliation, contact a Milwaukee law firm experienced in employment law litigation.

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