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High Court Sides With Woman's Retaliation Claim

The Supreme Court rules that a company is required to pay damages to a female worker who was retaliated against after she lodged a sex-discrimination complaint. A lower court had ruled that the worker had not originally been discriminated against, but that after she filed her complaint, she had been unfairly retaliated against.

Sheila White, a 5-foot-one-inch forklift operator, was the first woman hired by Burlington Northern railroad to work on the tracks in Tennessee. But when she complained of sexual harassment, she was reassigned.

Her new post required her to lift 100-pound jackhammers, haul rocks, travel constantly, and work longer hours. White then filed a retaliation claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and a week later was suspended for insubordination. After 37 days, she was reinstated with back pay.

The company's position was that it had the right to move White to other duties, and that she had been compensated for her suspension. But a jury concluded that White had been the victim of illegal retaliation. She was awarded $43,000 in the lower-court case. Burlington Northern then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Writing for the court majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that retaliation comes in all forms. It does not have to be related to hiring, firing or promotion or permanent loss of pay.

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