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Appeals court reinstates employee's hostile workplace verdict

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling in a case that could have significant ramifications for union employees in the Los Angeles area. The court ruled that a female member of a union could sue her employer for employment discrimination and a hostile work environment regardless of the fact that she belonged to a union that had a collective bargaining agreement with the employer.

The female plaintiff worked for United Parcel Service Inc. at the Boeing Field International hub in Seattle from 2002 to 2010. After making claims with the Washington State Human Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunity Commission, she brought suit against UPS alleging that she had been subject to various kinds of gender-based discrimination, including being deprived of surplus that was given to male employees with less seniority, being subjected to ridicule and humiliation.

UPS removed the case to federal court. At trial, the jury found in the plaintiff's favor and awarded her $500,000 damages for emotional distress. The trial court threw out the verdict, ruling that plaintiff's claim was pre-empted by the federal Labor Management Relations Act because her claim depended upon an interpretation of the term "extra work" in the CBA agreement with UPS. The case was re-tried, and the jury rejected the plaintiff's claims.

Plaintiff then appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The court reversed the trial court and reinstated the first verdict, ruling that the trial judge erred in finding that the claim was pre-empted by the LMRA. The court held that plaintiff's claim of hostile work environment and gender discrimination did not require an interpretation of the CBA. The employer's denial of extra work was merely one factor that contributed to a hostile work environment. UPS has not yet commented on the outcome.

This case once again demonstrates how an aggrieved worker can vindicate the right to be free from gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Anyone working in similar circumstances may wish to consult an experienced employment attorney for an evaluation of the facts and law of the situation and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages and attorneys' fees.

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