The upcoming holidays will surely bring company celebrations—and a predictable increase in sexual harassment lawsuits. That’s true even for unofficial events if employees believe they are expected to attend.
Here’s what you can do if festivities get a bit out of hand, either at a company-sponsored event or an unofficial one. Make note of the kind of event it was supposed to be, who participated and whether their participation appeared to be voluntary.
That way, if an employee sues, you’ll be able to argue that she participated freely in the merriment and can’t possibly have believed the events were sexually hostile.
Recent case: Allyson Geggatt worked for an electrical contracting firm for several weeks until she refused to come back to work. Her absence began after a weekend of partying arranged by the company president to celebrate an employee’s birthday.
Events included a Friday visit to a sushi restaurant, and Geggatt accepted the invitation to attend. She later claimed the company president had assaulted her that night. But the party ran all weekend, and on Saturday Geggatt returned to go to strip clubs with the group.
She later sued, alleging she had been exposed to a sexually harassing environment.
The court threw out her case, noting that she couldn’t have been too offended if she voluntarily agreed to go to the strip clubs after her first night’s experience. (Geggatt v. Deese, et al., No. 6:08-CV-1307, MD FL, 2009)
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