A female PE teacher/coach filed a lawsuit against the school district where she worked, alleging that she had been sexually harassed and retaliated against by her direct supervisor and another coach, who were also female. The evidence presented at the trial court showed that the two made frequent sexual remarks to the teacher, made comments about her breasts and buttocks, and commented on her naivete about various sexual practices. They also exhibited aggressive and intimidating behaviors, such as touching the teacher’s buttocks and “bumping” against her, and physically blocking her from entering and exiting the athletic office. This type of conduct occurred over a period of two years.

After receiving a perfect score on her evaluation, the teacher told the principal about the sexual harassment. The principal failed to report the complaint as required by board policy or to take any action. Instead, she told the teacher to meet with a wellness coordinator in order to “improve communication” with her co-workers. The teacher informed the wellness counselor that she had been sexually harassed, that the harassment had turned into aggression and that she feared for her safety, but the wellness counselor did not report the complaint to the administration. The teacher complained again to the principal later in the semester. Instead of reporting the complaint to the appropriate district official, the principal conducted her own investigation and concluded there was no evidence to support her claims.

The inappropriate behavior continued, and the teacher complained again the following semester. She also filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, at which time the principal told her there would be “consequences” for her complaints. A few days after the teacher filed the complaint, the principal placed her on an intervention plan. She stated it was necessary because the teacher was ineffective in communicating with co-workers. The teacher began to experience anxiety and went on medical leave. Shortly thereafter, she was placed on administrative leave with pay and was ultimately terminated. She filed a lawsuit regarding her termination, and the district requested that the lawsuit be dismissed. The trial court denied the motion and the school district appealed.

The court of appeals decided the case could continue. When someone brings a lawsuit claiming a hostile work environment created by sexual harassment, they must prove the following: that they are an employee who belongs to a protected class; that they were subjected to discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile or abusive working environment; the harassment was based on the protected characteristic, such as gender; and the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take adequate remedial action. The court of appeals found that she had proven these elements and that the teacher had been subjected to a repeated pattern of behavior consisting of sexual comments, humiliating jokes, insults, ridicule and intimidation, and that this pattern had been pervasive over a two-year period.