The case is Booth v. Pasco County, Florida and Association of Firefighters Local 4420 decided on July 3, 2014 [2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 12838]. The facts of the case are that Anthony Booth filed a grievance against the captain of his fire station citing Jerry Brown as a witness. Both plaintiffs alleged that they were threatened with transfer to a less desirable location if the grievance went forward. Booth was transferred and returned and Brown was transferred. Booth and Brown then filed retaliation charges under Title VII and the Florida Civil Rights Act against the county and the union. The union then posted a memo citing both Booth and Brown and warning that fees would have to be assessed if Booth and Brown won. Accordingly:
Local 4420 members Jerry Brown and Anthony Booth have filed a Charge claiming unspecified discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Union and the County. The Executive Board and our attorney feel it is a frivolous claim with no grounds for support and we are extremely confident in winning but will still have to defend the charges. This could be very costly and generate a legal bill of $10,000 or more. If it becomes too costly the Union may have to assess its members’ additional fees to offset the cost. We will update you as it progresses.
This would probably be enough to satisfy the criterion of dissuading a reasonable person from complaining or suing. But there was more. After posting the memo, both Booth and Brown were harassed by co-workers, and after complaining to county officials that they felt unsafe in their work environments, they were ordered to take fitness for duty exams. Normally, such exams are confidential, but in this case, it became common knowledge. There were other not so nice things … like the transfer of workers who supported Brown and Booth to less desirable locals.
A jury found both the union and the county guilty of retaliation and awarded Brown and Booth $83,000 each against the union and $10,500 for Booth and $12,500 for Brown against the county. The district court judge upheld the award against the union, but not against the county. The 11th Circuit upheld the award against the union and reinstated it against the county.
As I said above, I think the memo was enough to make a retaliation claim. The other stuff added to the award against the union, and the fitness for duty exam implicated the county.
By Art Gutman, Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology