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Third Circuit Reverses Lower Court’s Dismissal of Client’s Sexual Harassment Claim

Marissa Estabrook is one step closer to having vindicated her right to a workplace free of sexual and retaliation. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit last month reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for New Jersey dismissing Ms. Estabrook’s sexual harassment and retaliation Complaint against her former employer, Safety and Ecology Corp.

Within a few months of starting her job as a chemist for SEC, Ms. Estabrook was sexually harassed by
a co-worker. It turned out that at least three other female employees previously had complained about this same this same co-worker sexually harassing them, but SEC failed to discipline him. One manager laughed off the co-worker’s sexual harassment of female employees, saying it was just part of his culture.

When Ms. Estabrook complained to her supervisor about the co-worker’s harassment, the supervisor spoke to him and the sexual harassment stopped. But that didn’t mean that the harassment stopped. The co-worker turned Ms. Estabrook’s coworkers against her. First the coworkers bad-mouthed Ms. Estabrook to her supervisor; then they shunned her; and finally they framed her for tampering with a lab experiment, leading to Ms. Estabrook’s suspension. Although Ms. Estabrook complained about her co-workers’ retaliation, management did nothing to stop it. When, after three weeks, it became clear that Ms. Estabrook had never tampered with any experiments, management brought her back to work, but in a less responsible position, and, incredibly, working along side the employee who had sexually harassed her and turned her co-workers against her.

The District Court, on these facts, threw out Ms. Estabrook’s case, saying that the allegations in her Complaint were not detailed enough to show that SEC violated the law.

Berabau Menken LLP appealed the lower court’s decision, and last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in Ms. Estabrook’s favor and reversed that decision. The case is now going back to the district court where Ms. Estabrook will pursue her claims.

The Third Circuit’s decision can be found at 2014 WL 702355 (3d Cir. Feb. 25, 2014).