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Pa. State Police v. Suders

Supreme Court of the United States

March 31, 2004, Argued ; June 14, 2004, Decided

No. 03-95

Opinion

 [*133]   [**2346]  Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

LEdHN[1A][] [1A] LEdHN[2A][] [2A] LEdHN[3A][] [3A] Plaintiff-respondent Nancy Drew Suders alleged sexually harassing conduct by her supervisors, officers of the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), of such severity she was forced to resign. The question presented concerns the proof burdens parties [**2347]  bear when a sexual harassment/constructive discharge claim of that character is asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

HN1[] To establish hostile work environment, plaintiffs like Suders must show harassing behavior "sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [their] employment." Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67, 91 L. Ed. 2d 49, 106 S. Ct. 2399 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted); see Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22, 126 L. Ed. 2d 295, 114 S. Ct. 367 (1993) ("[T]he very fact that the discriminatory conduct was so severe or pervasive that it created a work environment abusive to employees  [*134]  because of their . . . gender . . . offends Title VII's broad rule of workplace equality."). Beyond that, we [****11]  hold, to establish "constructive discharge," the plaintiff must make a further showing: She must show that the abusive working environment became so intolerable that her resignation qualified as a fitting response.  An employer may defend against such a claim by showing both (1) that it had installed a readily accessible and effective policy for reporting and resolving complaints of sexual harassment, and (2) that the plaintiff unreasonably failed to avail herself of that employer-provided preventive or remedial apparatus.  This affirmative defense will not be available to the employer, however, if the plaintiff quits in reasonable response  [***212]  to an employer-sanctioned adverse action officially changing her employment status or situation, for example, a humiliating demotion, extreme cut in pay, or transfer to a position in which she would face unbearable working conditions. In so ruling today, we follow the path marked by our 1998 decisions in Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 141 L. Ed. 2d 633, 118 S. Ct. 2257, and Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 141 L. Ed. 2d 662, 118 S. Ct. 2275.

Because this case was decided against Suders in the District Court on the PSP's motion for summary judgment, [****12]  we recite the facts, as summarized by the Court of Appeals, in the light most favorable to Suders. 1 In March 1998, the PSP hired Suders as a police communications operator for the McConnellsburg barracks. Suders v. Easton, 325 F.3d 432, 436 (CA3 2003). Suders' supervisors were Sergeant Eric D. Easton, Station Commander at the McConnellsburg barracks, Patrol Corporal William D. Baker, and Corporal Eric B. Prendergast. Ibid. Those three supervisors subjected  [*135]  Suders to a continuous barrage of sexual harassment that ceased only when she resigned from the force. Ibid.

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542 U.S. 129 *; 124 S. Ct. 2342 **; 159 L. Ed. 2d 204 ***; 2004 U.S. LEXIS 4176 ****; 72 U.S.L.W. 4493; 93 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1473; 85 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P41,672; 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 391

PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, Petitioner v. NANCY DREW SUDERS

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Suders v. Easton, 325 F.3d 432, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 7152 (3d Cir. Pa., 2003)

Disposition: Vacated and remanded.

constructive discharge, harassment, tangible, employment action, affirmative defense, resign, court of appeals, hostile work environment, sexual harassment, constructive discharge claim, district court, intolerable, decisions, cases, official act, working conditions, effective, circumstances, employees, sexually, marks, adverse employment action, conditions, quotation, burdens, severe, sex, hostile work environment claim, employer liability, hostile-environment

Labor & Employment Law, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Burdens of Proof, General Overview, Employee Burdens of Proof, Standards of Proof, Pervasive & Severe Standards, Defenses, Antiharassment Policy, Employment Practices, Compensation Discrepancies, Demotions & Promotions, Discharges & Failures to Hire, Discrimination, Title VII Discrimination, Wrongful Termination, Constructive Discharge, Burdens of Proof, Statutory Application, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Civil Procedure, Justiciability, Exhaustion of Remedies, Adverse Employment Actions, Employer Liability, Harassment by Supervisors, Scope & Definitions, Sexual Harassment