Updates on Sexual Harassment
Updates on Sexual Harassment - Archives
FIRST QUARTER 2000
This section contains brief updates of recent sexual harassment complaints,
suits, settlements, awards, surveys and studies. The information is
gathered from many places and is intended to give an overview of the most
current events. It is not meant to provide an exhaustive list of all the
Nurse Versus Principal Suit Ends With Dissatisfied Parties:
The case reported in the February issue of The Webb Report involving a school nurse and the principal was decided by an Elizabeth County, New Jersey jury after a seven year battle. However, the decision did not satisfy either side in the dispute.
The jury found that the school nurse was entitled to more than $20,000 in damages because the school principal sent her a series of Valentine's Day cards. She said in her suit that he sexually harassed her by sending cards in 1991, 1994 and 1995. The principal denied he was the source of the cards, which were signed "your secret admirer."
The jury deliberated for more than three days, finding that the principal did send the cards, but that they did not constitute sexual harassment on the job. Nevertheless, the jury ordered himr to pay $21,500 in damages for the emotional distress he caused her; with interest accrued the amount was $28,303.
EEOC Makes Substantial Progress:
During fiscal 1999, the EEOC gained a record $307.3 million in benefits for victims of discrimination and cut its backlog of pending charges to a 15-year low. The total of benefits gained at the administrative level and through litigation rose from $21 million a year before and exceeded the previous record of $289 million in fiscal 1997.
The pending inventory of unresolved cases was at approximately 40,000 as of September 30, 1999--a figure which represented a 23 percent decrease from the year before.
Employers Can Be Liable for Supervisors' Retaliation:
The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that employers can be held liable for retaliation under Title VII when those supervisors harass employees in response to prior complaints about sexual harassment.
The court said that to date, no other circuit court ha addressed whether retaliatory harassment by a supervisor can be actionable under the new rules established by the U. S. Supreme Court's decisions in Faragher v. Boca Raton, Fla., and Burlington Indus. V. Ellerth. "we today hold that it can," the court said, and reinstated the plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim. Morris v. Oldham County Fiscal Court.
3/24/00 Full story in the March Webb Report
Truck Drivers Experience Harassment:
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a lower court's ruling and said that five male truck drivers who experienced almost daily sexual harassment from their male supervisor might have a hostile environment claim under the state civil rights act. The lower court had ruled that the conduct was mere "horseplay."
The former drivers alleged that their supervisor touched them and made explicit requests for sexual favors, usually in connection with offers to do favors for them. The supervisor allegedly also connected such requests to personnel related favors, such as raises.
The men said that the behavior was continuous, beginning as early as their first day on the job. Martin v. Schwan's Sales Enters. Inc.
Federal Court Says Groin Kick Possible Harassment:
The federal district court in Iowa ruled that a former plant supervisor can proceed to trial with a sexual harassment claim against his employer after a female worker kicked him in the groin.
The supervisor alleged that he was kicked in the groin by a female employee and filed a sex discrimination suit against his former employer. He said that he was subjected to sexual harassment in the form of a hostile work environment which violates Title VII. He further claimed that the woman had engaged in similar behaviors in the past and "directed the activity only at males. She did not strike women in the groin."
Jones v. United States Gypsum.
Managers May Have to Pay Damages:
The Washington State Court of Appeals ruled that workers can recover damages for sexual harassment and sex discrimination from managers. The court said that the state law, which defines an employer as "any person acting in the interest of an employer, directly or indirectly, who employs eight or more persons," includes managers.
The court rejected the argument that a verdict finding the employer not liable for sexual harassment and discrimination prevented identical claims against individual managers. The court said that to prevail in a claim against a manager, an employee need only establish that the manager, while acting as an employer under state law, sexually harassed the employee.
Brown v. Scott Paper Worldwide Co.
Plaintiff Challenges Boss's Response to Complaint:
A federal judge in New Mexico has been asked to decide whether an arrest for soliciting a prostitute should have anything to do with an administrator's ability to handle sexual harassment complaints. The plaintiff, a probation and parole employee who is suing the New Mexico Corrections Department for alleged sexual harassment says the details about her former boss's arrest are necessary to the lawsuit. The attorney representing the defendant claims that the circumstances surrounding the arrest are irrelevant.
The plaintiff's attorneys filed a motion asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Don J. Svet to impose unspecified sanctions against the defendant for refusing to answer certain questions in his deposition. The questions he refused to answer included whether he had asked a fellow employee to date him in exchange for job benefits, whether charges from the arrest were still pending against him, and whether his arrest had anything to do with his taking early retirement.
Turnpike Employee Loses Harassment Case:
A state Superior Court jury in Essex County, New Jersey, ruled that a female clerk working for the Turnpike Authority was not sexually harassed by her supervisors. Her lawsuit had gone to the state Supreme Court in 1997 and was considered a landmark ruling.
In the jury's ruling, seven members of an eight person panel agreed with the woman's allegations that one of her supervisors grabbed part of her skirt and other touched various parts of her body. However, the jury unanimously agreed that the conduct did not create a hostile, intimidating or abusive work environment and thus did not constitute illegal sexual harassment.
The jury also ruled that the employer took reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from occurring, and that it promptly responded an d remedies the female clerk's complaints. In response to the complaint, the authority demoted and suspended the two supervisors without pay.
3/13/00 Full story in the March Webb Report
Missouri Appeals Court Rejects Affirmative Defense:
The Missouri state court of appeals ruled that employers cannot raise an affirmative defense to claims of supervisory sexual harassment under the Missouri Human Rights Law. The court said that an employer is strictly liable under state law for supervisors' sexual harassment, even when the company had no notice of the harassment. The court acknowledged that some sections of the law regarding employment discrimination "expressly include affirmative defenses," but that "such defenses are conspicuously absent" from the section relating to supervisory sexual harassment, and that this is an indication of the state agency's intent in this area.
Pollock v. Wetterau Food Distrib. Group.
Court Upholds Award:
The New Hampshire state Supreme Court upheld a $115,000 sexual harassment award to a former student at Plymouth State College who claimed college officials ignored her complaints about her professor, head of the graphic design department.
The court upheld $100,000 in general damages and $15,000 in enhanced damages to the student in July 1997 by a county superior court jury. It sent another claim back to the lower court. The woman's attorney said she would not pursue that claim which involved recovery of attorney's fees.
Manager Held Liable:
A federal district court in New York ruled that a manager can be held individually liable for aiding and abetting in the sexual harassment of two employees, even though the manager himself did not take part in the harassment. The court said that the manager's refusal to take appropriate remedial action in response to the employees' many complaints could violate New York State Human Rights Law which makes it illegal discrimination "for any person to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden under the law, or to attempt to do so." Lewis v. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority
Violence Is Global Problem:
According to a new study, one of every three women worldwide has been beaten, raped or somehow mistreated, and that violence against women should be treated as a global health problem rather than just a law enforcement matter.
Co-author Lori Heise, who visited at least 20 countries during the past ten years, said "I see the health care setting as an opportunity, and right now, it's an opportunity lost." Heise collected date from 2,000 domestic violence studies and said "It's an opportunity to perhaps prevent a health problem from materializing."
2/21/00 Full Story in the February Webb Report
LA City Council Panel Rejects Settlement Offer:
A panel of the Los Angeles City Council turned down a settlement offer from a former council aide who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Councilman Nate Holden. The woman, Carla Cavalier, had her lawsuit dismissed by a judge in 1995 and was then allowed to proceed by the California Supreme Court. She asked for $900,000 from the city.
A court of appeal reinstated her case, ruling that she had "more than enough evidence" to proceed with the suit. She alleged that the councilman inappropriately touched her body and hair and tried to kiss her at a 1991 Christmas party.
Canadian Forces Report Decline in Harassment:
According to a report based on a survey of Canadian military personnel in 1999, the forces have made in-roads in combating various forms of harassment. The report said that additional work is needed to revamp the complaint resolution process however.
Along with a decrease in harassment incidents, the survey indicates an increase in overall harassment awareness and training. The survey defined harassment as sexual harassment, abuse of authority and discrimination based on age, race or gender.
Missouri Appeals Court Rejects Affirmative Defense:
The Missouri state court of appeals ruled that employers cannot raise an affirmative defense to claims of supervisory sexual harassment under the Missouri Human Rights Law. The court said that an employer is strictly liable under state law for supervisors sexual harassment, even when the company had no notice of the harassment. The court acknowledged that some sections of the law regarding employment discrimination expressly include affirmative defenses, but that such defenses are conspicuously absent from the section relating to supervisory sexual harassment, and that this is an indication of the state agencys intent in this area.
California Supreme Court Rules only Employers Can be Sued:
The California State Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment victims can sue their bosses, but not their co-workers, for improper workplace behavior under California's primary antidiscrimination law. The court unanimously found that the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act "imposes on the employer the duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent this harassment from occurring in the first place and to take immediate and appropriate action when it is, or should be, aware of the conduct." However, the court stated, "it does not also impose personal liability for harassment on nonsupervisory co-workers."
2/7/00 Full story in the February Webb Report
Judge Rules Ex-professor Harassed Co-worker:
A federal judge ruled that a former University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor sexually harassed and retaliated against a female faculty member when she refused his romantic overtures. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb found that a former business school professor 's "outrageous behavior" toward the woman in 1997 stemmed from his desire for a personal relationship with her.
Crabb ruled that the professor retaliated against the woman after she filed a sexual harassment complaint with the school's affirmative action officer.
2/2/00 Full story in the February Webb Report
Harassment Allegations Cause Split at Church:
Allegations of sexual harassment have divided St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Indianapolis. The division puts the church's day-care director against its pastor and Board of Elders which oversees the church. The controversy started when an elder was arrested on a charge of battery after a physical confrontation with the director of the child care program. The woman said the clash occurred after she filed sexual harassment charges against the pastor. She contends he would rub her back and follow her in the church and that he told others he wanted to see her in a bathing suit. The church's attorney said it is important to remember than only one person has raised such allegations.
1/31/00 Full story in the January Webb Report
Clerk Wins $1 Million in Suit Against General Motors: A federal jury awarded a woman more than $1 million on her claim that she was sexually harassed by a General Motors Corp. employee at the companyıs plant in Wentzville, Missouri. The woman's attorney said that the case is unusual because the woman was not a GM employee but was assigned to the plant by an outside vendor.
EEOC, courts, and experts in sexual harassment have long maintained that harassment laws may also apply to individuals who are not technically considered employees of the organizations.
While the female employee worked at the plant, a male pipe fitter who worked as a training coordinator made unwelcome sexual advances toward her she said. After she rejected his overtures, he became critical of her work in front of others.
Suits Tripled in 1990s:
The Justice Department reported that the number of lawsuits alleging discrimination in the workplace more than tripled during the 1990s due to new federal laws. The department's Burueau of Justice Statistics said job bias lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts rose from 6,936 in 1990 to 21,540 in 1999. A spokesman said "The growth in civil rights cases has been due largely to the increase in employment cases between private parties."
Religious Order Not Protected:
The U. S. court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the U.S. Constitution does not protect a religious order from a Title VII sexual harassment suit brought by a former seminarian. The plaintiff alleged that while he was a novice at the St. Ignatius College Preparatory School of Theology in Berkeley, California, he was sexually harassed by his superiors.
He said that between 1990 and 1996, he was given pornographic materials, subjected to sexual advances, and engaged in sexual discussions. He said his complaints were ignored and that the harassment he endured was so severe he was forced to leave the order before taking his vows. Bollord v. California Province of the Soc'y of Jesus.
1/13/00 Full story in the January Webb Report
Glass Ceiling Still in Place: According to a Harvard Business Review article published in January, women may be moving up to corporate boards and chief executive offices, but the glass ceiling is still firmly in place. The article said that women make up just 10 percent of senior managers in Fortune 500 companies because barriers to promotion remain widespread.
Authors Debra Meyerson and Joyce Fletcher, said in the article--"A Modest Manifesto for Shattering the Glass Ceiling"-- that the way to end workplace discrimination is to stop trying for a revolution. Instead, they said, a strategy of what they call "small wins" should be used. Such a strategy calls for a series of incremental changes aimed at the subtle discriminatory forces still at work in organizations.1/10/00
Smith Barney Makes Settlement Offers: The firm of Salomon Smith Barney made settlement offers to almost 2,000 current and former female employees who filed claims under a process established two years ago. The process was designed to settle a sexual harassment class action suit against the New York-based brokerage firm.
The 1,950 women who filed claims were sent letters on November 22, according to a Smith Barney spokesperson. Approximately 95 percent of the offers included a monetary settlement and the remaining 5 percent were found to have been without merit.1/07/00
Students Vow Not to Harass: In an effort to improve safety, some schools in Nebraska and across the country are asking students to make a promise to not taunt or harass other students. Papillion-LaVista High School students who signed the pledge received a yellow card with a ribbon. The card says, "I will pledge to be part of the solution. i will eliminate taunting from my own behavior. I will eliminate profanity towards others from my language. I will encourage others to do the same." 1/03/00
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