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Appeals Court Rules Discrimination Suit Against Georgia Pacific LLC Can Proceed

— July 1, 2022

The U.S. appeals court recently ruled that a discrimination lawsuit against Georgia Pacific LLC. can proceed.

Earlier this week, the U.S. appeals court ruled that human resources managers at Georgia Pacific LLC. are not exempt from the “federal law banning retaliation against workers who report discrimination.” The move also signaled that a discrimination lawsuit against the company can proceed.

Gavel; image courtesy of bloomsberries, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0, no changes made.

The ruling was handed down by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The unanimous ruling stated that “an Alabama federal judge made two key errors in dismissing HR manager Marie Patterson’s lawsuit.” Patterson had previously filed a lawsuit against Georgia Pacific LLC. over claims that the “paper products company fired her after she gave testimony in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against her former employer.”

The panel agreed that the “judge was wrong to find that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not shield HR managers who ‘oppose’ discrimination in the course of performing their job duties, and sent the case back to him for further proceedings.”

What happened, exactly? Well, in 2018, Patterson filed a lawsuit against Georgia Pacific over claims that her “supervisors fired her days after learning that she had recently been deposed in a discrimination lawsuit against a Texas hospital operator that had previously employed her as an HR official.” At the time, Georgia Pacific pushed back and claimed Patterson was terminated for “poor performance and excessive absences.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) got wind of the suit and filed a brief in support of Patterson last year. The agency noted that “Title VII prohibits retaliation against workers who have opposed any practice barred by the law or participated in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit.”

In 2020, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Beaverstock said “that because Patterson had testified against her former employer, she could not hold Georgia Pacific liable for retaliation.” He also stated:

“Human resource managers do not engage in protected activity when they oppose discrimination in the course of their job duties, as opposed to if they file personal complaints. Since Patterson’s job was to scrutinize her employers’ policies and address complaints, her conduct was not covered by Title VII.”

Earlier this week, the 11th Circuit disagreed and said “that exception did not exist anywhere in the text of Title VII.” It further stated that “what matters under the law is employees’ conduct and not their job titles.” It’s important to note that Title VII expressly protects workers who “oppose any unlawful practice, and not only those allegedly committed by their current employers,” the 11th Circuit wrote.


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HR Worker’s Testimony Against Ex-Employer Backs Retaliation Suit


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