On Monday, a jury awarded former Nashville Tennessee school employee Vicky Crawford $1.5 million after she claimed she was wrongfully terminated in 2003 because she cooperated in the sexual harassment investigation of a school official. Last January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Crawford could sue for "retaliation" even though she was not the one who brought forward the original sexual harassment claim.
According to an Associated Press news story this week, Crawford was interviewed by sexual harassment investigators for the school system who were looking into other employees’ allegations against the Employee Relations Director, Gene Hughes. Court documents indicated that Crawford told investigators that Hughes would ask to see her breasts, grab his crotch saying, "You know what’s up," and on one occasion pulled her head to his crotch. When a human resources officer asked Crawford to cooperate in the investigation of Hughes, Crawford complied after the HR officer assured her she would be protected from retaliation.
According to the news story, the HR officer testified that no action was taken against the accused "because there were no witnesses to his behavior." But, on the same day that the HR officer turned in her report on the allegations, "she also sent a letter to Metro Nashville’s internal audit department informing them of concerns with the operation of Crawford’s payroll department."
Metro Schools claimed that Crawford (a 30-year employee) was terminated for poor performance. After she lost her job, she also lost her house and car, and she could not find a job because a news article said she may have embezzled money.
We don’t know all of the details of what came out in the trial last week, but this is another hard lesson to employers about retaliation (or even the perception of retaliation) against witnesses who cooperate in a sexual harassment investigation.