A High-Profile Sexual Harassment Case in Cincinnati, Ohio Continues to Unfold. Does Evelyn Marie Reid Have a Case Against Terry's Turf Club?
News reports recently surfaced about a woman's termination from a local restaurant, which quickly turned into a high profile Cincinnati sexual harassment case, garnering the interest of a number of Cincinnati employment attorneys. The woman's name is Evelyn Marie Reid, and she worked at acclaimed Cincinnati restaurant Terry's Turf Club until she was unexpectedly fired by owner Terry Carter in the middle of a shift. As reported by FOX19, 700WLW, WKRC, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and other media outlets, Ms. Reid began recording Carter as he escorted her out of the restaurant. The three-minute video captured Carter telling Ms. Reid to "keep your legs open." He also declined to tell her why she was being fired, which came as a total shock to her.
Ms. Reid has hired a Cincinnati sexual harassment lawyer and filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) - the first step in filing a sexual harassment lawsuit in federal court. Reid could file state and federal sexual harassment claims against Carter and Terry's Turf Club. Ohio sexual harassment law (arising under RC 4112.02, et seq.) and federal sexual harassment law (arising under Title VII) are almost identical. One main difference is that under federal law, a former employee is automatically entitled to have her attorney fees paid if she wins the case. Another is that, under Ohio law, the employer only needs to have 4 employees to be subject to anti-discrimination and anti-sexual harassment laws, whereas under federal law, the employer must have fifteen or more employees. Also, under Ohio law, an individual supervisor or owner (such as Carter) can, under some circumstances, be held liable individually, whereas under federal law, only the company is liable for Title VII claims. Sexual harassment cases can be filed in state court or federal court. A good sexual harassment lawyer will work with the client to determine what claims are appropriate and whether the case should be filed in state court, such as in Hamilton County, Warren County, Butler County, or another Ohio county, or in federal court.
Several sexual harassment attorneys in Cincinnati have been interviewed by the media about Reid's story. Their opinions differ. One stated:
“If I were her, I would contact a lawyer and go to the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and file a charge for sexual harassment and wrongful termination.” The seasoned attorney says a lot of sexual harassment in the workplace cases are circumstantial with "he said, she said" claims, but this video takes it to another level. In this case, you have more than just circumstantial evidence. To me, I would argue that this is direct. You're firing me and you can't give me a concrete reason as to why and then you make a comment like 'keep my legs open,' said the attorney, quoting the video."
Other employment lawyers were less certain how strong a case Reid may have for sexual harassment, retaliation, or wrongful termination. One explained that the video could constitute evidence of sexist animus on Carter's part, which would be at issue in any kind of litigation Reid may want to bring following her firing.
"The question is, what was his intent when he fired her? Intent is always invisible. Ohio is an at-will employment state, meaning employers can fire their workers without needing a reason why. However, it's still illegal to fire someone because of their gender, religious beliefs, disability or for being a member of another protected class. Attorneys look for circumstantial evidence of intent when trying to prove firing was because of one of those reasons, and things said, even after an employee is fired, can be evidence."
Another attorney who regularly handles sexual harassment cases in Ohio opined that the video itself does not support a hostile work environment claim, explaining that if Reid wants to prove she was fired because she was a woman, it would take more evidence than the video alone.
"Obviously it's the most crass, awful thing to say to anybody. It's clearly inappropriate and wrong by any standards. Employers are not required to give a reason when firing an employee, but that can often leave the question over whether they were let go for an illegal reason."
All the attorneys who were interviewed agreed on one thing - that Carter didn't handle the situation well. Time will tell what really happened - from Reid's perspective and from Carter's perspective - and how strong her case is. Some sexual harassment cases are settled before a lawsuit is filed, as with other employment law cases. It will be interesting to see what happens with this one.
To read more about sexual harassment law, read our sexual harassment law Q&A. To speak with an employment attorney about a potential sexual harassment case - in Cincinnati, Dayton, West Chester, Mason, Lebanon, Batavia, Butler County, Clermont County, Warren County, or anywhere in Ohio, contact The Durst Law Firm today.
Alex Durst is a Cincinnati sexual harassment attorney with The Durst Law Firm. who has experience representing both employees and employers.. Alex can be reached at (513) 621-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.