Nexlink must face fired worker’s sex harassment retaliation claim

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Katie Stancoombe for www.yheindfianalae

Nexlink, a “solutions provider” for AT&T, has lost its bid for summary judgment and must face a former employee’s claims that she was fired in retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a former supervisor when she previously worked at AT&T.

While employed as a sales manager at an Indianapolis landline division of AT&T, Rachel Barter attended a business trip with her supervisor, John Ligon. According to Barter’s complaint, one evening during the trip, Ligon drank heavily and later asked her to come to his hotel room to discuss business. When she refused to sit on the bed next him, she claims Ligon exposed himself to her and told her “not to act like she did not want it,” Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker wrote in her order. Barter then left the room.

Upon her return to work, an AT&T human resources officer advised Barter to not make a formal harassment report because without evidence, it was likely that nothing would be done beyond moving Barter to another supervisor. The HR officer then said Barter might be considered a “difficult employee” for having made the report.

Barter was later terminated by AT&T VP of Sales Andrea Messineo following an investigation on Barter for violating the company’s code of conduct by inflating its landline IRU counts to meet sales goals. While being interviewed in January 2015, Barter informed her interviewer that she had previously been ordered by Ligon to inflate the numbers to increase her team’s total monthly sales. She also reported that Ligon subsequently had sexually harassed her.

Barter was fired from her position in March 2015 — about six months after the alleged harassment — and Ligon soon resigned after Barter’s sexual harassment report against him. He was neither formally disciplined for either the sexual harassment nor the inflation of the IRU numbers by the time of his resignation, according to the order.

In April 2015, Barter was hired by Nexlink, which served as a solutions provider for AT&T. She then filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that she had been sexually harassed by Ligon and that AT&T had terminated her in retaliation for her having complained about it. Messineo learned of the EEOC charge and informed Barter’s AT&T contacts that she was to be restricted from engaging with clients.

Messineo raised concerns twice more, and in August 2015, Barter’s Nexlink supervisor Jeff Messano was informed for the first time that Barter could not access any AT&T systems, enter any AT&T facilities, or speak with any AT&T customers or employees.  Barter was subsequently terminated from her position with Nexlink after informing her supervisor of the EEOC charge against AT&T.

In February 2017, Barter sued against Nexlink, arguing it fired her in violation of Title VII in retaliation for her having filed a charge of discrimination based on sexual harassment while employed with AT&T. Her suit also names AT&T.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana last week denied summary judgment to Nexlink in Rachael D Barter v. AT&T, Inc., Nexlink Communications, LLC, 17-cv-00622, finding that genuine issues of material fact existed to prove Barter had received no new restrictions from Messineo and that her work was satisfactory with no prior complaints from Nexlink.

“If the jury believes such evidence, it could reasonably conclude that Nexlink’s proffered reason for Ms. Barter’s termination was pretextual and that the only thing that changed on August 26 was that Ms. Barter shared with Mr. Messano that she had complained about sexual harassment while employed by AT&T and that she believed AT&T was retaliating against her by imposing restrictions on her employment with Nexlink. She was terminated the next day,” Barker wrote.

“On these facts, a jury could find that Nexlink terminated her in retaliation for having engaged in protected activity while working with AT&T.”

Barker noted that although Messano claimed he was previously unaware of Barter’s restrictions from AT&T, genuine issues of material fact existed regarding the extent of his knowledge and understanding of the scope of those restrictions.

“Ultimately, a jury could believe Mr. Messano’s explanation and find that Nexlink terminated Ms. Barter for a legitimate business reason but resolving this dispute will require credibility determinations that cannot be made on summary judgment,” Barker concluded.

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