HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

Employer Wins Suit Despite a “Pattern of Systematic Sexual Harassment”

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By Eric B. Meyer

In Mann v. Staples, Inc., a female employee received unwelcome comments about her appearance and physique, was kissed and groped, and called a “skank ass bitch.”

The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, described this as a “pattern of systemic sexual harassment” — one in which the alleged harasser appeared to have never received any anti-harassment training.

So, what did the court do? It affirmed summary judgment for the employer and dismissed the plaintiff’s Complaint.

What?!?

Procedures made the difference

According to the court, the employer’s complaint procedure and it’s subsequent implementation made all the difference here:

[T]he facts in this matter show defendant had a specific policy prohibiting sexual harassment; trained its management personnel on these policies; made available a defined and publicized procedure for a victim to present harassment complaints; completed a detailed process to investigate those complaints; and followed through with identifiable remedial and corrective action.”

The Court then did my job and offered all of you a good takeaway:

A company that develops policies reflecting a lack of tolerance for harassment will have less concern about hostile work environment or punitive damages claims if its good-faith attempts include periodic publication to workers of the employer’s antiharassment policy; an effective and practical grievance process; and training sessions for workers, supervisors, and managers about how to recognize and eradicate unlawful harassment.”

Given that EEOC charge activity is at a record high, if it’s been some time since you last reviewed/updated your anti-harassment policy or trained your workforce in this area, now would be a good time to do that.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .
  • Jacque Vilet

    Great for the company bad for the employee.   Regardless of training, procedures, etc. if an employee harasses another employee the harasser should be on disciplinary action and the company held liable.

    If companies are liable for their suppliers for bribery and child working environments — then companies shoiuld be held responsible for sexual harassment.

    Not cool for a company to provide all the training and then — wash their hands of it.