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Venable attorney Tom Strong was quoted in a March 3, 2009 Law360 story about the recent Supreme Court ruling extending Title VII protections to workers who speak out about discrimination without initiating a complaint. Strong and others feel that the decision gives little useful guidance to employers and lower courts because the decision failed to clearly mark the boundaries of the expanded protections.

According to Strong, the court, which sought the dictionary definition of “opposition” to find on the side of the worker in the case, left the door wide open for employees seeking shelter under the statute.

“Until the full scope of the court's opinion is fleshed out in appellate decisions, I think employers need to assume the definition is very broad,” Strong said. “They (the justices) did define it incredibly broadly and provided no clear limits. Unfortunately, for employers, it's going to be a wait-and-see.”

The high court agreed to weigh in on the case in January 2008. The suit was brought against the Nashville-Davidson County School District in Tennessee by public employee Vicky Crawford, who was fired after giving evidence against school district employee relations director Gene Hughes during an internal probe.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the district, ruling that a formal complaint must be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before an employee can claim protection under the Civil Rights Act.