Fish & Richardson and Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs Win Landmark Decision in Gender Discrimination Case

Case sets legal precedent for workplace discrimination cases under Title VII

Washington, D.C., February 14, 2019 - Fish & Richardson, together with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC), helped secure reversal of a district court decision dismissing plaintiff Evangeline Parker's workplace discrimination case under Title VII. On February 8, 2019, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held - in a precedential opinion - that false rumors that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain promotion can give rise to her employer's liability under Title VII for discrimination on the basis of sex.

Fish handled the case pro bono and was supported in its appeal by the WLC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a coalition of nearly 50 women's and equal rights groups from across the country.

"We are thrilled with the Fourth Circuit's decision regarding our client's hostile work environment and retaliation claims. It not only allows her to seek recourse for the harm that she suffered due to her unlawful termination, but it creates an important precedent for employees who are subjected to these types of rumors," said Daniel Tishman, a principal at Fish & Richardson who argued the case at the district court.

Fish and the WLC filed the case on May 15, 2017 against Reema Consulting Services, Inc. (RCSI). In her complaint, Parker alleged that she endured a sex-based hostile work environment while working at RCSI, and was terminated in retaliation for complaining about the environment. During her 18 months at RCSI, Parker received six promotions to become an assistant operations manager - a feat few other women at RCSI had accomplished. The lawsuit alleged that a male subordinate, Donte Jennings, circulated a false rumor that RCSI only promoted Parker because she was sleeping with her boss at the time. When Parker raised her concerns about the false rumor to her new boss, Larry Moppins, he responded by continuing to spread the false rumor, chastising Parker for complaining, and telling her she would not advance further at RCSI because of the rumor. As a result, Parker suffered continued mistreatment and escalating hostilities from her male colleagues, and ultimately was fired.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland had dismissed Parker's complaint, holding that her allegations of discrimination were based on her conduct, not her gender. But the Court of Appeals reversed the district court's ruling, stating that "a deeply rooted perception - one that unfortunately still persists - [is] that generally women, not men, use sex to achieve success. And with this double standard, women, but not men, are susceptible to being labelled as 'sluts' or worse, prostitutes selling their bodies for gain." Consequently, Parker did properly allege gender-based discrimination because rumors of "sleeping their way to the top" inherently affect women disproportionately. The court also held that Parker's harassment as alleged in her complaint was sufficiently severe and pervasive to establish a hostile work environment, reviving not only her hostile work environment claim, but also her retaliatory termination claim, which the trial court also had dismissed.

The Fish team consisted of principals Andrew Kopsidas and Daniel Tishman, as well as associate Taylor Caldwell. Dennis Corkery led a team from the WLC, including Tiffany Yang. The WLC is dedicated to fighting discrimination, repairing the damage of historic racial inequity, and breaking down barriers to opportunity.