“Manager Rule” Not a Defense to Title VII Retaliation Cases- Says 4th Circuit

August 11, 2015

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has rejected the so-called “manager rule” in a Title VII retaliation case.  Pursuant to this defense, a managerial employee is precluded from bringing a claim for unlawful retaliation if the alleged protected conduct was within the scope of the managerial employee’s job duties.  In DeMasters v. Carilion Clinic, the plaintiff, an EAP consultant, claimed he had been terminated in retaliation for reporting issues regarding an employee’s complaints of sexual harassment and  the employer’s purported mishandling of same.  The district court dismissed the case finding that the communications made by the plaintiff were part of his job responsibilities and therefore could not constitute protected activity necessary to support a claim. The Court of Appeals disagreed and found that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged he engaged in protected activity. The Court specifically stated, “Nothing in the language of Title VII indicates that the statutory protection accorded an employee’s oppositional conduct turns on the employee’s job description, or that Congress intended to excise a large category of works from its…protections.”

Note that there is a split of authority in the federal circuits with regard to the manager rule.   The 11th Circuit (the federal appellate court covering Florida, Georgia and Alabama), in contrast to the 4th Circuit, recognizes the doctrine in the context of Title VII cases.  Thus far, the Supreme Court has declined to resolve the split with the last opportunity presenting itself in 2013.