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Internal Policies Not Required

Nancy Drew Suders quit her job as a police dispatcher for the Pennsylvania State Police in August 1998. Ms. Suders started the position in March 1998 and claimed she had been sexually harassed by her supervisors ever since. Ms. Suders contacted the state police equal opportunity officer about the harassment, but did not file a report because; Suders claimed the woman was unhelpful and unsympathetic.

Ms. Suders finally decided to quit after she was accused of theft, handcuffed, photographed, and questioned. Ms. Suders had several times taken a computer-skills exam to satisfy her job requirement. Each time, her supervisors told her that she had failed the exam. Ms. Suders subsequently found her ungraded exams in a set of drawers in the women's locker room. She concluded that her supervisors had never forwarded the tests and their reports of her failure were false. Considering the tests as her property, Ms. Suders removed them from the locker room. Her supervisor realized the tests were removed and devised a plan to arrest her for theft. The officers dusted the drawer with a theft-detection powder that turns hands blue when touched. Ms. Suders did, in fact, return the exams, whereupon her hands turned blue. The supervisors apprehended and handcuffed her, photographed her blue hands and commenced to question her. Ms. Suders tendered a written resignation but the supervisors refused to release her. They brought her into an interrogation room, gave her Miranda warnings, and continued to question her. Ms. Suders reiterated that she wanted to resign, and then was finally allowed to leave.

Ms. Suders filed suit in federal district court, stating that she was forced to quit her position due to the harassment. The district court granted summary judgment to the state police before the case went to trial; finding that Ms. Suders had failed to use the internal procedures set up by the state police to deal with sexual harassment. The district court judge ruled that Ms. Suders could therefore not bring suit unless the police had taken an "adverse employment action" that substantially changed her employment status.

The Court of Appeals overturned the district judge's decision, ruling that the harassment had been so severe that Ms. Suders had no choice but to quit. While the police had not fired her, they had been directly responsible for her resignation and therefore, could not use her failure to file a report as a defense.

The issue came before the Supreme Court in as to whether or not when a supervisor makes a workplace environment so hostile, through sexual harassment, that an employee has no choice but to quit, may the employee bring suit even if she did not use the internal procedures established by the employer to report sexual harassment claims. The Supreme Court ruled that an employee faced with a situation in which a "reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign," could bring suit even if she had not filed a report with the employer before resigning. Her employer, however, could use her failure to file a report; along with evidence of the safeguards it had in place to prevent harassment in its defense. If the employer could prove that she had not attempted to prevent the harassment, and that the safeguards in place would have prevented it if she had, the employer would not be liable. If you quit your job due to a discriminatory or harassing workplace, contact a lawyer to discuss your legal rights.

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