OREGON: Participation in sexual jokes doesn’t preclude sexual harassment claim
A Wasco County employee can proceed with her sexual harassment complaint against the Chief Deputy Sheriff, despite the fact that she once flashed a coworker and participated in occasional joking of a sexual nature. The employee complained that the Sheriff repeatedly told her she smelled good, called her sweetie, rubbed his hands on her back and waist, and once invited her to sit on his lap. He also used the office’s internal surveillance system to watch the employee during the workday. The employee complained to the Sheriff’s supervisor, but he never conducted an investigation; he merely spoke to the entire department about appropriate behavior and general sexual harassment issues.
The Oregon District Court determined that the employee can continue with her case, finding that her participation in inappropriate conduct doesn’t mean that the Sheriff’s conduct was welcome or that she couldn’t have been offended by it. The employee will now argue her case to a jury (Mendoza v. Wasco County, D Or, Nov. 2010).
Tips: Don’t assume that you’re off the hook for sexual harassment simply because the person complaining has participated in inappropriate conduct as well. Conduct a thorough investigation when a complaint is made and discipline all parties who violated your harassment policy. See our Legal Guides, “Harassment in the Workplace: Avoiding Liability” (3288) and “Conducting an Internal Investigation,” (537) and call your Vigilant staff representative when a harassment issue arises.
This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.