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Take action to separate, investigate as soon as you hear sexual harassment allegations

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Juries are unpredictable, so smart employers do everything they can to avoid a jury trial. That’s especially important when an employee claims sexual harassment.

It’s critical to investigate sexual harassment allegations as soon as they surface. Then act fast to separate the involved employees before more harm is done.

Wait too long, and you may find your organization facing a jury trial.

Recent case: Pamela Coward sued her employer, Food Lion, alleging that it waited too long before separating her from a co-worker she said grabbed her breasts and squeezed her so tightly she could barely breathe.

Coward told another co-worker about the incident, who in turn told the store manager. He told HR. Within days, the co-worker grabbed Coward again. After a third incident, someone apparently finally spoke to the co-worker because the behavior stopped.

Now the court hearing the case has ordered a jury trial based on the length of time it took Food Lion to take effective action to stop the harassment.

The court said a jury should decide whether the delay emboldened the co-worker to keep harassing Coward. (Coward v. Food Lion, No. 5:09-CV-110, ED NC, 2010)

Final note: When you receive a complaint, act immediately to stop any further harassment. For example, Food Lion could have told the co-worker to stay away from Coward and explained it would investigate the allegations.

Remember, your obligation is to stop harassment before it gets worse.

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