CALIFORNIA: Teasing over “girly” clothes may be illegal harassment
A California state agency was recently sued by an employee who claimed to have been harassed by coworkers for his manner of dress.
In case you needed a reminder to take all complaints of harassment seriously, take note. A California state agency was recently sued by an employee who claimed to have been harassed by coworkers for his manner of dress. The coworkers allegedly teased the employee that his clothing was “girly” because he wore shirts in pink, lavender and light blue. They also made jokes insinuating that the employee was gay and romantically involved with another coworker. The employee complained to his supervisor, who disciplined the harassers, but the harassment didn’t stop. Instead, it intensified. When the employee took his complaint higher up through management, nothing was done. In fact, the agency chief allegedly laughed at the complaint. When the employee filed suit in court for illegal harassment under federal law and the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the court determined there was sufficient evidence to suggest that he might have been the victim of illegal harassment and that the employer failed to take sufficient steps to prevent it. The employee now will get to plead his case to a jury (Felix v. State of California, Dept. of Developmental Services, ED Cal, July 2013).
Tips: Even if an employee’s complaint sounds trivial or unlikely to you, it is important to take it seriously and follow up on it by investigating the situation, disciplining where warranted, following up with the complaining employee and protecting him or her from retaliation. It is common for the investigation of a seemingly minor complaint to uncover much more serious issues beneath the surface. Check out our Legal Guide, “Harassment in the Workplace: Avoiding Liability” (3288) or contact your Vigilant staff representative for assistance.