Sexual Harassment Verdict For Tucson Firefighter Reinstated

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires anyone filing a hostile work environment harassment claim to lodge the claim within “300 days of any act that is part of the hostile work environment.”

Michelle Maliniak is a fire engineer with the Tucson Fire Department. At Maliniak’s assigned station, male firefighters repeatedly used the women’s bathroom, leaving it dirty and walking in on Maliniak. After Maliniak brought the issue to her supervisor’s attention, a captain put a sign on the women’s bathroom door that said “No Men.”

The next day, Maliniak found someone had written “for me” next to “No Men.” After finding the writing on the sign, Maliniak discussed the issue with the Chief of the Fire Department, who circulated a memorandum reinforcing that the women’s bathroom was exclusively for women. Problems with the women’s bathroom continued. Four months after the bathroom sign incident and the circulation of the Chief’s memorandum, Maliniak found a sign on a Hazmat truck in the course of her routine chores that said: “Fu@# You Use Reverse B!*tch.” A firefighter from a different shift had put the sign on the truck as a practical joke intended for another firefighter on his shift four days before Maliniak found it. The firefighters involved and their supervisors knew about the bathroom sign incident before the truck sign incident.

Maliniak filed a sexual harassment claim with the EEOC 300 days after finding the sign on a fire department Hazmat truck. A jury found in favor of Maliniak on her Title VII hostile work environment claim and awarded her $35,000. In its verdict, the jury explicitly found that the truck sign incident, which was the only incident within the 300-day limitations period, was a continuing part of Maliniak’s earlier hostile work environment claim. A trial judge overturned the verdict, concluding that the truck sign incident was not related to the earlier incidents, and that Maliniak’s hostile work environment claim was therefore time-barred.

The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the verdict in favor of Maliniak. The Court found that “it was not unreasonable for a jury to conclude that the truck sign incident was related to the earlier bathroom incidents, and that all incidents were therefore part of the same actionable hostile work environment claim. It was reasonable for the jury to conclude that the truck sign incident was related to the earlier bathroom incidents because both involved written signs that were denigrating to women, and the supervisors and firefighters who allowed the sign to remain on the truck knew of the offensive bathroom sign.

“Having concluded that the trial evidence permits a conclusion that is not contrary to the jury’s verdict, we reverse the grant of judgment as a matter of law and reinstate the verdict.”

Maliniak v. City of Tucson, 2015 WL 1568568 (9th Cir. 2015).