A Las Vegas company was sued by the EEOC on behalf of a male employee, who, after his wife had died, began to receive sexually suggestive notes from a female co-worker. He brought the notes to the attention of a manager who “made light of the advances” and did nothing stop the harassment – perhaps because the employer had no anti-harassment policy.
The EEOC just reported that the company settled the case for $75,000, but for some reason refused to agree to any “suggestions” made by the EEOC to prevent future harassment and thereby has been ordered to do so by the Court.
There are three points we would like to make here.
First, not only male employees can be sexual harassers, but also female employees. Although the manager here “made light” of what the male employee reported to him, imagine if the situation involved a female employee who reported to the manager what the male employee reported in this case: “While the alleged victim repeatedly communicated that he was not interested in the female co-worker, the advances only intensified, including giving him a semi-nude photo of herself, making lewd gestures, and even recruiting other employees to approach him on her behalf. Over the course of a year, the harassment escalated to a near-daily basis, including offensive remarks by co-workers about his sexuality due to his rigorous rejection of the sexual advances.”
If the employee had been female, would you think that this was sexual harassment? A local director of the EEOC stated that “Sixteen percent of all sexual harassment charges at the EEOC last year were filed by men. The law protects both men and women from sexual harassment at work, and it is the employer’s obligation to actively prevent and correct such problems as they arise in the workplace.”
The second point – as we always note – is that a company MUST have written zero-tolerance anti-harassment policies in place and must strictly adhere to them, especially when harassment is reported to a manager. Moreover, managers (and employees) must be appropriately trained in anti-discrimination behavior.
Third, in a case like this, to refuse the EEOC’s requests to agree to future relief effectively invites court intervention and future EEOC scrutiny. In this case, the EEOC’s press release noted that it was forced to seek an injunction, which the Court granted. The Court enjoined the company “from further violating Title VII as it relates to sexual harassment for a period of five years. … further ordered [the company to] develop a policy and procedures for handling reports of sexual harassment; develop an effective investigation process for all complaints of sexual harassment; appropriately discipline management and human resources staff for failure to comply with such procedures; and provide annual sexual harassment training to all supervisory employees. This order impacts the over 4,000 workers employed by [the company]. The EEOC will monitor compliance with the judge’s order.”
Better to have a good policy, a trained workforce and management, and a voluntary agreement to follow the law than to suffer monetary damages and the EEOC super-managing your company for years to come.