Charlotte, North Carolina - The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it has filed a lawsuit against Wilson County, North Carolina, alleging that Wilson County Emergency Communications (WCEC) engaged in unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it terminated an employee after she disclosed to supervisors that she had been sexually harassed while on the job.

Title VII is a federal statute that not only prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion, but also from retaliating against employees for engaging in activities protected by Title VII, such as complaining about discrimination. 

As alleged in the lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina, Jennifer Riddle began working as a telecommunicator trainee for WCEC in 2017. Soon after she began her employment, she was sexually harassed by the Assistant Director of WCEC. According to the filing, Riddle complained of the harassment, and an investigation ensued. After WCEC’s investigation substantiated Riddle’s complaints, the county terminated the Assistant Director. However, as alleged in the lawsuit, soon after the Assistant Director’s termination, Riddle began experiencing hostility from her supervisor and co-workers, culminating in a transfer and, ultimately, termination, when she disclosed to the supervisors on her new shift that she had previously been sexually harassed and that WCEC failed to effectively deal with her harasser.

“The Civil Rights Division will not tolerate attempts by employers to silence victims of sexual harassment,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Discouraging employees from reporting potential harassment and discrimination to their supervisors stands in the way of efforts to identify and root out sex harassment in workplaces across the country. We will continue to hold employers accountable and take action to ensure that employees are free to come forward to report discrimination or harassment in the workplace.”

Riddle filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC’s Charlotte District Office investigated the charge and made a reasonable cause finding. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the charge to the Justice Department.

The United States, through this lawsuit, seeks to require WCEC to develop and implement policies that would prevent retaliation. The United States also seeks monetary relief for Riddle to compensate her for damages that she sustained as a result of the alleged retaliation.