Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for any employer to discriminate against an employee who "has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice" by the law or "has made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under" under the law.
In the case before the high court, the Metro School District in the Nashville area investigated complaints of sexual harassment against employee relations director Gene Hughes in 2002. A district official asked 30-year Metro employee Vicky Crawford whether she had witnessed the alleged behavior. Crawford told superiors she also was a victim, detailing the supervisor's alleged sexual harassment.
The district took no action against Hughes, but fired those who had complained, including Crawford, saying she was guilty of embezzlement.
Crawford filed suit under Title VII, but a federal judge and a federal appeals court said merely detailing the alleged behavior was not equivalent to "opposing" the conduct, meaning she could not be protected against retaliation.
But the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice David Souter, said detailing the alleged harassment to an employer was equivalent to opposing the behavior. Six justices joined in the opinion and two joined in a concurring opinion.
(Crawford vs. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn., No. 06-1595)