Supreme Court Allows Employee’s EEOC Complaints to Proceed after Separate Settlement

August 22, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that a discharged employee’s settlement of her civil service commission appeal does not bar the employee from establishing that her termination amounted to an adverse employment action for purposes of retaliatory discharge claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). 

Porsha Perkins, an African-American female over the age of 40, worked for an agency of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County from 2001 until her termination on Jan. 13, 2006. She appealed her termination to the Metro Civil Service Commission and also filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that she had been fired in retaliation for filing lawsuits and prior EEOC complaints against Metro. On Aug. 2, 2007, Perkins settled her Civil Service Commission appeal and other pending lawsuits against Metro in exchange for back pay and agreeing not to seek future employment with the agency that fired her. The settlement expressly excluded Perkin’s complaint with the EEOC. 

Seven months later, Perkins sued Metro for retaliatory discharge under Title VII and the ADEA. Metro asked the trial court to dismiss the case and argued that Perkins’s settlement agreement prevented her from establishing that her termination amounted to an “adverse employment action,” a necessary element in her federal retaliatory discharge claims. The trial court granted Metro summary judgment and the Court of Appeals affirmed. 

Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that Perkins’s settlement did not retroactively change the nature of her termination. The Court noted that the settlement expressly excluded her EEOC complaint alleging retaliatory discharge and that Perkins may seek to recover damages other than back pay and reinstatement in her retaliatory discharge lawsuit. The Court reversed summary judgment for Metro and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. 

To read Porsha Perkins v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson Countyopinion authored by Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/perkinsp_opn.pdf.