Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Jul 13, 2015

Supervisor’s harassing behavior results in $1.5 million liability

Harassment & Discrimination 

A supervisor’s sexually suggestive comments and acts toward three female employees who all asked him to stop resulted in a jury award of punitive and compensatory damages of $1.5 million.

A supervisor’s sexually suggestive comments and acts toward three female employees who all asked him to stop resulted in a jury award of punitive and compensatory damages of $1.5 million.

A federal appeals court agreed that the employer should be held liable with no opportunity for a defense, since the supervisor also was involved in the employees’ termination (a tangible employment action), as well as the termination of a male employee who objected to how the female employees were treated. The employer argued it was unaware of the harassing behavior, because the employees only complained to the supervisor. The employer argued once the employees did call the employer’s hotline, the employer investigated and found no wrongdoing.

Finally, the employer claimed the supervisor was not the decision-maker in the termination decisions. The court agreed with the jury that once the employees asked their supervisor to stop, they had “complained” to the employer. The supervisor’s criticisms of the employees’ performance to the ultimate decision-maker were a direct cause of the eventual terminations. In addition, the employees, who were all temporary staffing agency employees, never received a copy of the employer’s harassment policy. It also didn’t help that the employer’s investigation of the harassment was cursory at best (EEOC v. New Breed Logistics, 6th Cir, April 2015).

Tips: Don’t rely on a verbal review of a non-harassment policy with temporary agency employees. They should receive a written copy, the same as other employees. Make sure supervisors are well trained and that they are following your policies. You should conduct anti-harassment training at least every two years. (In California, this is mandatory for supervisors.)

When you receive a complaint, you must investigate thoroughly. Call your Vigilant employment attorney for advice on harassment law. See our Legal Guide, “At a Glance: Workplace Harassment” (6257) and review our additional harassment blogs.

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