Monday, November 10, 2008

Can A Woman Be Fired From Her Job For Stalking

In Washington, D.C., Attorney Dawn Martin released the following press release on her recent filing in an important case before the supreme court:

"Working while Female:" Supreme Court Will Decide whether to Review D.C. Circuit Decision Holding that a Woman Can be Fired for being Stalked by a Stranger in her Workplace !
Washington, D.C. – Martin v. Howard University and Alice Gresham Bullock, U.S. Supreme Court No. 08-204. As a law professor at Howard University, Dawn Martin was stalked by a delusional, homeless, serial stalker of African-American female professors. The stalker, Leonard Harrison, was searching for the physical embodiment of his "fantasy" wife -- a fictional female character, Geneva Crenshaw, in a book, And We are not Saved, written by Prof. Derrick Bell. Instead of following its own security procedures to ban the stalker from campus, Howard responded to her requests for protection by refusing to renew her teaching contract. Prof. Martin sued Howard, alleging sexual harassment/hostile work environment and retaliation for protesting sexual harassment. Martin is the first case to present the issue of "gender profiling" in the employment context -- or the "working while female" factor. The application of "gender profiling" to sexual harassment cases will also set precedent for racial, ethnic, religious profiling harassment cases.
Ms. Martin filed a Petition for Certiorari in the Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the March 31, 2008 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. See Petition for Certiorari, Howard's Brief in Opposition and Ms. Martin's Reply Brief at On November 14, 2008, the Supreme Court will decide whether it will hear the case on the merits. Roberta Wright, Esquire, representing the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) and the other women's advocacy groups, has stated that she will file an Amicus Curiae Brief within the next few days.
Groups that want to be included should immediately contact Ms. Wright at and Ms. Martin at

Dawn V. Martin, EsquireLaw Offices of Dawn V. Martin, LLC1725 I Street, N.W., Suite 300Washington, D.C 20006

(202) 408-7040 D.C. phone

(703) 642-0207 office

(703) 642-0208 facsimile Website is


fourth wave said...

A lot of things upset or disturb me and I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the things people do, but this might just take the cake for sheer inanity. How can a University even get away with that kind of treatment? It doesn't make an iota of sense. I mean seriously, what the fuck?

Emily S said...

All I can really say to this is completely in agreement with Fourth Wave: WTF??????

Are they completely and utterly insane? This is the most bizarre, stupid and idiotic act I've seen in a loooong time. Coming from some faceless corporate, it would be (very slightly) less shocking, but from a University it's astounding!

Arum said...

I had a look through the court papers, and sadly I think they've got her. She was on a two-year visiting professorship, which came to an end. She had no legal right to be just given tenure, so when she became a 'problem' with her stalker, they could just dump her perfectly legally. This mirrors the situation for many women, we're on short term contracts which can be terminated at any time if our faces no longer fit (eg commit the terrible crime of 'getting yourself pregnant'). Short term contracts have, until recently, also meant fewer employment rights than staff workers in the UK, don't know if that's true in other countries. There have now been efforts made to change that, as it was recognised that many women were in that position and it was sexist. However, it's been strongly resisted by employers, so we'll have to see how it pans out.

harrietsdaughter said...

Howard did this!?! Howard? Are you freaking kidding me? Stop the world, I want to get off.

Anonymous said...

In addition to Arum, DC is under the "at-will" policy. Anyone can be fired without reason.

Danyell said...

It may be true that they have the legal right, but that's still awful. The law doesn't always work well with morality.

polerin said...

"at will" has limits. If she can show that men or people in some other category were not released after their 2 year when they required assistance, then it is discrimination and at-will does not protect the employer. It is, however, mind blowing that it even came to this point.

H.M. said...

Polerin is right. There are exceptions to the "at will doctrine." The most common exceptions are anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion and color. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of age. The ADEA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. There are other statutes overriding the "at will" doctrine, like "whistleblower" statutes.

Prof. Martin filed this case under Title VII, as a sex discrimination case. She is arguing that she was or harassed on the basis of sex, in violation of Title VII, when she was stalked. Her point is that the stalker would not have stalked her had she been a man. He was only stalking women, looking for a wife, based on his obsession with a fictional woman in a book.

If the court finds that the stalking consitutes harassment based on sex, because most stalking victims are women, or that this stalking constitutes harassment based on sex because this stalker only pursued women to be his wife, then she should get compensation for working in the hostile work environment, based on sex, while she was stalked in her workplace -- Howard's law school. She does not have to prove that she should have been renewed to win this part of her Title VII claim.

Yes, it is truly disgraceful that this reputed civil rights institution would not protect a professor right in her own office in the law school building, from a known serial campus stalker. Howard should accept responsibility for what it did, and for what the jury found it did, whether or not the court says the stalking was based on gender. Nobody should have to work under those conditions.

Her second claim is a Title VII retaliation claim. Title VII also says that you can't take an adverse action against an employee or applicant who has reported sexual harassment (or other illegal discrimination) in order to retaliate against them for this "protected activity." Prof. Martin is claiming that her contract was not renewed and that she was not hired into one of the vacant tenure track positions because she asked for protection from the stalker -- or, in Title VII terms, that she reported sexual harassment in her workplace.

The problem in her case is that the jury never reached this question because it found that she was not protected by Title VII. The jury said that the stalker did not pursue Prof. Martin based on her gender, so it was not sexual harassment. If Title VII doesn't apply, there is no statute that prevents an employer from firing or refusing to hire a woman who is stalked. NOW and other women's groups filed an Amicus Brief (friend of the Court) They are concerned about the issues that pertain want the Supreme Court to hold that stalking is harassment based on sex because at least 80% of stalking victims are women. At least they want the Court to hold that stalking is sexual harassment when the stalker says he is stalking his victim because he wants her to be his wife.

If the Supreme Court reverses the lower court and holds either that stalking is sexual harassment, based on the disparate impact theory -- that stalking primarily affects women and is therefore sex discrimination,then it can address the retaliation claim. Under Title VII analysis, because her non-renewal came so close to her request for protection from the stalker, the burden shifts to Howard to produce evidence that it did not renew/hire her for some legitimate reason and not based on retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. If Howard can't do that, she should win her retaliation case also.

Prof. Martin's sexual harassment claim has nothing to do with a breach of contract or any obligation to renew her teaching contract. There is no also requirement that she prove a breach of contract claim in order to win a Title VII retaliation claim. If you reject, fire, or fail to renew somebody for an illegal, discriminatory reason, it's not ok -- irrespective of the "at will" doctrine. She also had a breach of contract claim, but that is totally separate from her Title VII claim. One does not depend upon the other.

polerin said...

Wow H.M.

.. That's an awesome explanation of the legal issues. Thank you.

Liberty G said...

There is no excuse for a University to neglect its security procedures, especially in this day and age, with violent incidents perpetrated by disturbed individuals punctuating the news! Howard just lucked out in that far more serious consequences did not occur in this case - no thanks to their negligence!

Of course, they did eventually avoid further disruption by the stalker - by removing his victim through dismissal from her job!

No sane person can see this as either a just or desirable outcome or “solution” to the problem.

It is sad that a University like Howard, with a fine reputation over the years, should commit such a shameful action, violating both the right to a safe workplace of Professor Martin, and her civil rights under the law.

I wonder how knowledge of this disgusting lack of concern for campus safety will be regarded by other female professors - or students - considering a Howard teaching position or education? Personally, I would think more than twice before exposing myself to such a lack of concern - or adherence to its own security procedures.

By the way, I’m not sure it has been reported - is this deranged individual still loose and casting about for a new and unwilling “wife”?

The ridiculousness of the allegation that stalking in the mad quest for a “wife” is “not associated with gender” boggles the mind.

The unfairness of penalizing Professor Martin, the victim of a crime, with dismissal from her position is so clear that it amazes me that the legal battle continues.

And if they should win the case (God forbid!), and the next - or even the same - sociopath becomes more deadly, what in the world will Howard gain?

I pray that the Supreme Court will see the importance of firmly establishing that employers may not fire anyone because they are being stalked or harrassed or threatened - and that they are required to take every possible step to provide a secure workplace for all, especially female employees.