When a supervisor allegedly harasses a subordinate, all kinds of things can go wrong. But handled improperly, all fingers often point to employer liability.

That’s why it’s vital to act quickly on any subordinate complaint.

Recent case: Eric Cox worked for Waste Management of Texas as a truck driver. His male supervisor began sending suggestive text messages that Cox believed were sexually oriented. He thought his supervisor was trying to get him to become romantically and sexually involved.

Cox told the supervisor to stop, explaining he was happy in his present relationship. Cox said his supervisor got angry and threatened him, so he complained to HR. Shortly after, Cox, the supervisor, the supervisor’s boss and HR met to discuss the problem. The company offered to transfer both Cox and the supervisor so they would never have to work near each other. But Cox went home on sick leave and never returned, claiming psychological problems as a result of the harassment.

Meanwhile, the company suspended the supervisor and told him the text messages were inappropriate and violated the company harassment rules. Then the supervisor quit. But Cox quit too, claiming he had no choice.

Then he sued Waste Management for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision, and argued his constructive discharge was an adverse employment action.

The court didn’t buy it. It concluded Cox hadn’t suffered an adverse employment action and that the company’s actions had fixed the problem. It dismissed the lawsuit. (Cox v. Waste Management of Texas, No. 2:08-446, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2nd District, 2009)

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