With the holidays here and as New Year’s approaches, employees may be feeling warm and fuzzy toward their co-workers. They may also be getting their nerve up to jump start the New Year by asking out that co-worker they’ve long had their eye on. Even in companies where there is no specific fraternization policy, these co-workers may not be in the clear.
The Third Circuit case of Anastasia v. Cushman Wakefield, Citgroup, et als. demonstrates why it may not be such a good idea to ask your co-worker out on a date. In this case, an employee of Citigroup opened up to the plaintiff one day over lunch and confessed that he was interested in her romantically. The Plaintiff immediately set him straight that he was only a friend and mentor.
So, now you’re probably thinking that this clod could not take no for an answer and kept pursuing her, which is why she finally sued, right? Wrong.
The spurned suitor was instead immediately embarrassed and apologized several times for his comment. He even thanked her for her understanding about his boorish behavior. She responded by going out on leave and eventually sued for sexual harassment.
Although the Third Circuit upheld the dismissal of the suit by the District Court, as any person who has been involved in a discrimination lawsuit knows, winning can be a hollow victory. By the time summary judgment and an appeal is filed in a case, legal fees are likely to be close to or over $100,000. This is true even though the employee did not engage in harassing behavior.
Looking back on it now, I am sure that the defendant wishes he had never opened his mouth in the first place. The lesson to be learned, as it often is, think before you speak. Oh, and if your office’s holiday decor includes mistletoe, you might want to take that down.