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A longtime local government worker is fired after she cooperates with an investigation of sexual harassment allegations against a high-ranking official. The Supreme Court said Friday it will decide whether federal civil rights law protects employees from such retaliation.

The justices agreed to review claims by Vicky Crawford, who was fired in 2003 after more than 30 years as an employee of the school system for Nashville, Tenn., and Davidson County.

Months earlier, investigators interviewed Crawford about the school district's director of employee relations, Gene Hughes, and Crawford told them Hughes had sexually harassed her and other employees.

The investigation found Hughes had acted inappropriately, but did not recommend that he been disciplined.

Instead, Crawford learned she faced charges of irregularities in her job as payroll coordinator, and she was fired. Crawford then filed a federal lawsuit claiming she had been dismissed in retaliation for alleging harassment by Hughes.

A U.S. district judge and a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit. The courts said the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not apply to Crawford because she didn't raise harassment claims on her own but merely responded to investigators' questions.

The Bush administration is supporting Crawford. "Internal investigations are an integral aspect of Title VII and there is no reason to leave cooperating witnesses unprotected," said Solicitor General Paul Clement.

The justices also will review a separate case involving age-discrimination claims filed by former workers at the Knolls Atomic Power Lab.


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