The Arkansas Supreme Court recently answered a certified question from a federal court regarding whether managers may be personally liable in retaliation cases brought under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. The question is an important one because most courts have found that individuals are not liable for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the federal discrimination law.
In Calaway v. Practice Management Service, Ms. Calaway complained to the office manager about sexually harassing comments from her physician-employer. Calaway asserts that once the physician learned of Calaway’s complaints, he immediately terminated her employment.
Calaway filed her lawsuit in federal court, alleging that she worked in a hostile work environment and that Practice Management and the physician retaliated against her. Her lawsuit sought to hold Practice Management and the physician liable under Title VII and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act.
The Arkansas Supreme Court determined that the Arkansas Civil Rights Act allowed a person to be held individually liable for retaliation. The Court reasoned that the section of the statute that concerns retaliation unambiguously refers to a "person." The court looked to the plain meaning of the word "person" and interpreted it to mean an individual, thus creating individual liability for retaliation claims.
Bottom Line: Until the Arkansas legislature changes the state statute regarding retaliation, management and human resources employees could be personally liable for business decisions that create retaliation complaints. Individual liability does not exist under Title VII, so it would be up to the Arkansas legislature to amend the Arkansas Civil Rights Act to bring it in line with federal law.