BURLINGTON NORTHERN & SANTA FE RAILWAY CO. V.WHITE
: THE SCOPE OF RETALIATORY ACTIONSAND A LEGAL CATCH-22
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohib-ited from discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, color,religion, sex, or national origin.
Employers are further prohibited from dis-criminating against employees who have opposed incidents of discrimina-tion in violation of the statute.
Until recently, the scope of this retaliationprovision was a matter of debate: Was it limited to employment-related ac-tions, or could it cover retaliation outside the workplace? In 2006, the Su-preme Court directly addressed this question in
Burlington Northern &Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White
, resolving it in favor of a broadly drawnprovision
as an expansion of civil rights.The decision was put to the test six months later, however, in a district courtopinion,
Sykes v. Pennsylvania State Police
that seemed to turn the
reasoning on its head.
This Comment will examine the
decision and the SupremeCourt’s efforts to create a new standard. It will then turn to the
deci-sion and address the ways in which it misapplied the
standard.Finally, this Comment will consider the possible ramifications of
standard will be applied in other courts, as well as thebroader implications for Title VII litigation.
*J.D. Candidate, Harvard Law School, Class of 2008. The author wishes to thank Charles Newman, Michael Cross, and Kimberly Liu for their insight, support, andassistance.
42 U.S.C. §2000e-2 (2000). For the full text of the provision,
42 U.S.C. §2000e-3 (2000). For the full text of the provision,
Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 126 S. Ct. 2405 (2006).
Sykes v. Pa. State Police, No. 05-1349, 2007 WL 141064 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 17, 2007).
It is important to note that other courts seem to have correctly interpreted the
, Morgan v. Masterfoods USA, No. 2:04-CV-907, 2006 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 83152, at *25
32 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 14, 2006); Watson v. City of Cleveland,No. 05-3519, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 23218, at *24
25 (6th Cir. Sept. 8, 2006). Indeed,in another case from the Western District of Pennsylvania
by adifferent judge
standard was applied in a way that explicitly sidesteppedthe problem of the
opinion. Johnson v. McGraw-Hill Cos., 451 F. Supp. 2d. 681,711 (W.D. Pa. 2006) (“[I]t is not necessary for Johnson to establish that he was actuallydissuaded from seeking legal recourse (which he obviously was not). . . .”).