A federal appeals court on Monday reinstated a retaliation charge filed by a former county sheriff’s office employee in a case involving an alleged unwanted kiss.
Laura Alkins, who worked as a peace officer with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office in Lawrenceville, Georgia, for nearly two decades, was told in 2018 that she would be transferred back to the county jail, where she had worked for several years before, according to a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta i Laura E. Alkins v. Sheriff of Gwinnett County.
In a meeting with her supervisor, she stated that during her previous tenure at the prison, a supervisor gave her an open mouth without permission, although she did not report it at the time.
She told the supervisor that she feared that a transfer back to prison would require her to work under that supervisor and expose her to further unwanted contact.
Alkins was placed on administrative leave and a subsequent investigation did not prove or disprove her claim. But statements she made about senior officials̵7; reactions to her accusation prompted a subsequent investigation that concluded she had been untruthful, and she was demoted.
During a meeting where she was informed of her demotion, she made another claim, that during her first meeting with her supervisor on the matter, he told her that there had been other allegations against the prison warden. Alkins was terminated after a brief investigation did not substantiate that claim.
She then sued the sheriff’s office for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the US District Court in Atlanta, which granted the sheriff’s office summary judgment dismissing the case.
That decision was overturned by a three-judge court panel.
“The only issue on appeal is whether Alkins had a reasonable belief that she was being sexually harassed when her alleged supervisor kissed her against her will, such that her report of the incident is protected activity under Title VII,” the ruling said. “We agree with Alkins that her report was protected activity.”
The judgment stated that the alleged behavior was gross. “Few types of physical behavior are more invasive than an open-mouth kiss,” it said. “We have recognized that less serious conduct may nevertheless support a claim of sexual harassment,” it said, remanding the case for further proceedings.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.