Hanlon v. Chambers

In Hanlon v. Chambers, 195 W.Va. 99, 464 S.E.2d 741 (1995), the Court explained the rationale for encouraging the reporting of suspected sexual harassment, even prior to the time when such conduct may become actionable: The legislative purpose in including the antiretaliation provision was obviously to encourage people to come forward and expose unlawful employment practices and to do so without fear of reprisal. By protecting reasonable, good faith opposition, the provision also advances the statutory purpose of ending discrimination by engaging private citizens to help serve as "private attorneys general." An absence of such protection would create a chilling effect on employees' willingness to join the fight. The overriding purposes of W.Va.Code, 5-11-9(7)(C), would be wholly defeated if its protection applied only to those individuals who confidently know the technical area of fair employment law and who correctly predict how its doctrine will ultimately be applied in a court of law. Given those unpredictable variables, few rational employees would take much solace in the protection from retaliation offered by such a narrow construction of W.Va.Code, 5-11-9(7)(C). This case illustrates another example supporting the prevailing federal view, that is, in hostile environment harassment cases (sexual, racial, or whatever), the offensive conduct often does not rise to the level of actionability until after there has been a significant accumulation of incidents. Both employees and employers would benefit from a standard that encourages harassed employees to come forward early, well before the ephemeral line of legal liability has been crossed, in order to root out the problem before it grows into an unmanageable and costly crisis. (Hanlon, 195 W.Va. at 112, 464 S.E.2d at 754.)