Court of Appeals Decision Reverses Trial Court Dismissal of Sexual Harassment Case in Matter Handled by Attorney Jason Lee
The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a sexual harassment case by the trial court in a matter that was handled by Attorney Jason Lee (Kelly L. Phelps v. State of Tennessee, 634 S.W.3d 721 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2021)). The trial court ruled that the sexual harassment case could not proceed because the sexual harassment was not “in the workplace” due to the fact it occurred at a work Halloween party, after hours. Burrow Lee, PLLC decided to appeal this ruling because the sexual harassment and sexual assault events were still significantly tied to the workplace and a narrow interpretation of Tennessee Law on this issue was not appropriate. The Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed with the legal position we set forth in argument and by briefing. The Tennessee Court of Appeals ultimately ruled, in a very important and extensive sexual harassment opinion, as follows:
Considering the totality of the circumstances, we hold that there is a sufficient nexus between the workplace and the harassment for a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that the sexual assaults perpetrated against Plaintiff, and the work situation that followed in the next few months, “affected a term, condition, or privilege of [her] employment.” Campbell, 919 S.W.2d at 31; Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-401(a)(1). A number of applicable actors favor this conclusion: the close proximity in space and time to the traditional workplace; the pressure applied to employees to attend; the roster of attendees at both parties, showing a great majority or entirety of employees; the sponsorship by Defendant of the party, including its provision of alcoholic beverages and encouragement to buy and drink them; Plaintiff’s testimony that the after-party was a “continuation” of the State sponsored party; and, as the trial court found, the “evidence that Josh Walsh sexually abused women at Paris Landing State Park prior to the Halloween party” and the “genuine dispute as to whether Defendant knew about all of Walsh’s behavior before the Halloween party.” See, e.g., Hawkins v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 517 F.3d 321, 341 (6th Cir. 2008) (“An employer’s responsibility to prevent future harassment is heightened where it is dealing with a known serial harasser and is therefore on clear notice that the same employee has engaged in inappropriate behavior in the past”). We vacate the trial court’s summary judgment against Plaintiff on her THRA discrimination and sexual harassment claims.
The entire Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling can be found here: https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/phelps.kelly_.opn_.pdf
The YouTube video for the oral arguments on appeal can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwHSuV9paI
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