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Fourth Circuit holds that Employers Participating in Spreading Rumors and Gossip can Constitute Liability under Title VII

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Highest-ranking manager spread the rumors and acted upon them by terminating the plaintiff

According to the federal appeals court in Richmond, VA employers failing to prevent or stop gossip and rumors of an alleged sexual relationship may be held liable under Title VII. At issue in Parker v. Reema Consulting Services was whether a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain a promotion can ever give rise to her employer’s liability under Title VII for discrimination based on sex. In this case the plaintiff was terminated after she complained of a hostile work environment stemming from the rumor. The Fourth Circuit, which reversed the district court’s dismissal, held that the allegations where the employer was charged with participating in the circulation of the rumor and acting on it by sanctioning the employee, did implicate such liability.

Specifically, the highest-ranking managers of the facility held a group meeting where the rumor was discussed. In another meeting, the same official blamed the plaintiff for bringing the gossip into the workplace. One month after the plaintiff complained to human resources she was terminated and claimed sexual harassment and retaliation under Title VII.

This ruling is atypical since other courts have held that gossip and rumors do not constitute a liability under Title VII.

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