Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination and harassment based on their race, color, religion, sex and national origin. What many people may not realize,
however, is that the law further protects employees from discrimination and harassment based on their relationship with someone who is in a protected class. Furthermore, the United States
Constitution protects an individual’s fundamental right to maintain intimate human relationships of their choosing, also commonly known as the freedom of intimate association. One employee
recently brought a lawsuit against his employer based on violation of his rights under Title VII and the Constitution.
Harassment Based on His Relationship
Scott Matusick is a white male who worked for the Erie County Water Authority. Though he himself is not in a protected class, in 2004 he became engaged to be married to an
African-American woman. Around that time, his co-workers learned of the relationship, and the serious harassment and assault against Matusick began shortly thereafter and continued regularly
for years after their marriage. Some offensive behavior included:
· Constantly using racial slurs in reference to his fiancé/wife and her children;
· Throwing paper in his face;
· Holding a pencil to his neck and threatening to kill all the [racial slur]s;
· Threatening to “get him” and his family;
· Coming to his home, duct-taping his door closed, throwing lawn equipment and other items
on his roof, and more.
Matusick regularly reported the behavior to his supervisors, but did not file a formal complaint with the human resources department because he believed the supervisors would take care of it.
Later, when he met with HR for a separate matter, the HR representative made reference to him “disrupting the work force” with his complaints to his supervisors about “black issues, white
issues” and so on.
Ultimately, Matusick was fired for his own misconduct on the job, and then he filed a lawsuit for harassment and discrimination against his former employer. The court found that Matusick was
not wrongfully terminated due to his interracial marriage because there was a separate, adequate and valid reason for his termination. However, the court upheld the jury’s verdict that he suffered unlawful harassment and assault at work due to his intimate association with an African-American woman and her child. The jury awarded him $304,775 in back pay and the
Court of Appeals upheld that award.
Sometimes, discrimination or harassment may be indirect and can even be against an employee who is not a member of a protected class. If you believe you have suffered unlawful
discrimination or harassment at work, you deserve to be compensated for the violation of your rights. Do not hesitate to call the Oregon employment attorneys at HKM today to discuss a