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Toyota Hit With Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit

Often employees who have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace are terrified about filing a complaint because they fear that they will lose their job. That is the very reason why retaliation is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also, some employees are afraid to take FMLA leave because they believe that will not be allowed to return to work. That result is also unlawful.

In a complaint filed last Tuesday in Texas federal court, Gabrielle Mullins accuses Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Texas Inc. of refusing to allow her to return from medical leave since Oct. 11 despite being cleared by doctors in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. She also alleges that Toyota violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not allowing her to return to work in retaliation for sexual harassment and discrimination claims she lodged with the company and with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

Mullins worked for the company, a Toyota factory in San Antonio, from September 2005 until January 2013, when she went out on leave, according to the complaint. Mullins' official job title was "team member" and she was assigned to various departments within the facility during the course of her employment, including quality inspection, quality assurance and assembly.

In November 2012, Mullins filed a report with one of her supervisors that she was being verbally sexually harassed by a colleague. Her complaint, however, was ignored and she was forced to report both the harassment and the lack of an adequate response by her supervisor to human resources, the suit says.

According to the complaint, the HR representative that she reported the conduct to responded to her harassment claim by saying "I wonder what you did or said to make him think that he could talk to you like that?" A perfect example of "blame the victim".

In December 2012, Mullins called Toyota's ethics hot line to again report that she had been subjected to sexual harassment and that both her supervisor and the HR representative failed to adequately respond to her complaint, the suit says.

Mullins was ordered to take a medical leave of absence in January 2013 for an unspecified disability, and two months later Toyota informed her that it was closing its investigation of her sexual harassment complaint because too much time had passed to conduct a proper, thorough investigation, the suit says.

Mullins subsequently filed a charge with the EEOC alleging sex discrimination, sexual harassment and a sexually hostile working environment. The agency issued Mullins a right-to-sue notice in May 2013, but she chose not to bring the case, according to Tuesday's complaint. I would imagine that she made that decision because she thought she would be fired if she brought the suit.

But her show of mercy did not work. In October, Mullins was cleared by both her doctor and by Toyota's medical specialist to return to work with some restrictions and has since made "made numerous attempts to return to work, to no avail," according to the suit.

Mullins has identified to Toyota several available positions for which she has experience and is qualified to perform and that are consistent with her medical restrictions, but Toyota has refused to return her to work, the complaint says.

Mullins responded by filing a second charge with the EEOC alleging she has not been allowed to return to work because of her disability and as retaliation for her previous sexual discrimination charge, the suit says.

The takeaway: Don't hesitate to enforce your rights if you have been subject to sexual harassment or if you need FMLA leave. The law is designed to protect you from retaliation so that you will not be discouraged from taking action.

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