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When high-level harassment erupts, act fast to prevent even worse legal trouble

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in Compensation and Benefits,Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Here’s a cautionary tale that offers an inevitable lesson: When a supervisor’s harassment spills out into the greater workplace, the claims will grow exponentially.

Recent case: Josephine Caronia had a serious romantic relationship with the owner of Hustedt Chevrolet, the Long Island auto dealership where she worked. Then she broke it off. Caronia claimed that her boss continued to harass her for years, grabbing her, calling her names and generally making her life miserable.

When other employees stepped in to protect her, they also became the boss’s targets.

He allegedly staged inquisitions of Caronia’s male co-workers to see if they were having sex with her. The same co-workers complained many times that Caronia was being harassed and that they were caught in the crossfire. One co-worker was even transferred to another dealership, where he claimed he made far less money. He said the transfer was retaliation for trying to protect Caronia and because the boss was jealous.

They all sued, alleging various forms of sexual harassment and retaliation.

The employer wanted the cases tried separately, presumably so a jury wouldn’t be treated to “Animal House” testimony. The judge said one jury should hear all claims during the same trial. (Caronia, et al., v. Hustedt Chevrolet, et al., No. 05-3526, ED NY, 2009)

Final note: Sometimes HR has the unpleasant duty of stepping in to stop harassment when the perpetrator is highly connected. If you’re pressured to compromise your ethics, you may want to consider a job change.

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