The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a woman who loses her job because she refuses the sexual advances of a male boss has a right to sue her former employer for damages under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court rejected a decision by U.S. District Judge Oren R. Lewis of Alexandria and ordered him to reconsider a $1 million law suit filed by a Fairfax County woman against a business machine company.
The woman, Darla Jeanne Garber, charged in a complaint against Saxon Business Products Inc. at 8305 Merrifield Ave. in Fairfax that she was a victim of sex discrimination because she "was fired specifically because she refused to engage in illicit sexual relations with her immediate superior, John Johnson." She was an executive secretary to Johnson, the officer manager, according to court papers.
Saxon, which had won dismissal of her suit before Lewis, argued before the Appeals Court that Garber's sex had nothing to do with her discharge from the company in January, 1975. "She was not allegedly terminated because she was a woman," the company's lawyers told the court. "Rather, her claim is that her employment was affected because she rejected the advances of a superior who found her personally attractive."
In any event, the company claims her objections were not the subject of a company policy, but only "the alleged individual sexual perference of a fellow employee" and therefore not subject to a claim under the Civil Rights Act.
The Appeals Court, in a decision released today, disagreed. In a one-paragraph order it said Garber's allegation "liberally construed" indicates a possible violation of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits sex discrimination.
Garber, 32, could not be reached for comment, but a lawyer for Saxon, Hill B. Wellford Jr., said Saxon has not decided whether to appeal the decision. Wellford said the company "definitely" will contest Garber's accusation against Johnson if the case goes to trial before Lewis.