(CN) – The 2nd Circuit allowed an elections administrator to sue his supervisors for allegedly pressuring him to resign on the belief that male employees were more likely to sexually harass their female co-workers.
Plaintiff Carl Thomas Sassaman worked for the Dutchess County Board of Elections under the supervision of David Gamache, the Republican board commissioner. After a printing error, Sassaman was forced to swap jobs with Michelle Brant, an elections specialist. Sassaman and Brant were friends; they ate lunch and smoked cigarettes together.
Their relationship soured after Brant turned down Sassaman’s offer to meet for a drink or coffee. He claimed that Brant dished intimate details about her personal life one night over the phone, a move he interpreted as her way of gauging his interest in having a one-night stand.
But Brant said she thought he was “going to let [their] friendship go down the tubes” because she didn’t want to sleep with him.
Sassaman later admitted to logging in to her email account and reading a message he suspected was about him.
When Brant complained, Gamache suspended Sassaman with pay, explaining that Brant had accused Sassaman of “harassing and stalking her.”
After a brief investigation, Gamache told Sassaman that he would be fired unless he resigned. Gamache allegedly defended his decision by explaining, “I really don’t have any choice. Michelle [Brant] knows a lot of attorneys; I’m afraid she’ll sue me. And besides you probably did what she said you did, because you’re male and nobody would believe you anyway.”
Sassaman submitted his resignation 11 days later.
He sued Gamache, the elections board and Dutchess County in federal court, alleging Title VII sex discrimination.
U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant ruled for the defendants after concluding that Sassaman had failed to offer enough evidence to back up his allegations.
“We disagree,” wrote a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in New York. “Plaintiff’s evidence included: (1) his supervisor’s statement indicating that men have a propensity to commit sexual harassment and (2) defendants’ arguable failure to investigate properly the charges of sexual harassment lodged against plaintiff.
“This evidence would permit a reasonable jury to infer discrimination based on sex stereotyping.”