For our lead in this week, the Employment Discrimination
Report has another look at how sexual harassment in the workplace can be a
problem even when it is not committed by supervisors or co-workers. Basically, an employer is under an obligation
to remedy a potential harassment situation if made aware of it, even if the
harassment stems from the actions of non-employees, such as customers.
In the case at hand, a Virginia company settled with the
EEOC for $30,000 after a female receptionist who was sexually harassed by a
male patient brought a claim against the company. When the employee made a complaint to her
supervisor, the company took no action to correct the situation. The EEOC noted that its position has remained
consistent: regardless of who perpetrates the harassment, once it is reported
to a supervisor the company needs to do something. As always with these types of claims, it is
the company’s inaction or indifference that usually causes trouble later
on. A proactive response is always the
best way to avoid future litigation.
Staying on the same theme, a recent lawsuit against the Town
of Cheektowage, outside Buffalo, NY, alleges sexual harassment on the part of eleven
employee’s of the town’s sewer maintenance department, including the town’s
employee relations coordinator. The
complaint alleges a variety of comments and acts. Earlier in the year, the New York Division of
Human Rights had ruled against the plaintiff, noting that she had often
participated in sexual discussions with co-workers voluntarily.
The plaintiff alleges that once she was transferred to a
position as a sewer maintenance worker, she suffered harassment on an almost
daily basis. She also alleges that her
supervisor noted that her co-workers behaved inappropriately, but failed to
correct their behavior. After complaining to the supervisor on two occasions within
months of her transfer, she alleges that her co-workers threatened to complain
to the employee relations coordinator about her as retaliation. The town alleges that the plaintiff’s
complaints stem from a prior relationship she had with one of her co-workers.
The plaintiff’s attorney alleges that by filing
the suit in District Court she will have access to discovery that will produce
evidence not used in the NY Human Rights decision. She also claims that once she filed her
complaint with the Human Rights Division her co-workers attempted to intimidate
and belittle her. The Human Rights
Division, in finding no probable cause, credited the town’s investigation into
the plaintiff’s allegations, which involved hiring a private investigation
firm. Overall, it looks unlikely that
she can prove the facts alleged in her complaint, unless she really did make
specific complaints to her supervisor and he ignored her claims.