Employers have an obligation to create a workplace environment free of sexual and other illegal harassment. That means managers and supervisors should always consider “what if” before they push employees into difficult situations.
In this case, for example, supervisors probably didn’t think ahead what could happen if male firefighters were ordered to drive a firetruck in a gay pride parade.
Recent case: John Ghiotto and three other members of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department were ordered to drive and ride on a firetruck as part of the city’s annual LGBT Pride Parade.
As they rode the truck, some members of the public behaved badly, exposing themselves, making sexual comments and generally making the four fire department employees feel very uncomfortable. For example, some parade spectators called out for the men to show their “hoses.”
They sued, alleging that when the fire department assigned them to ride in the parade, it knew they would become targets of sexual harassment.
A jury agreed and ordered the city to pay between $5,000 and $14,200 to each of the firefighters—plus more than $500,000 in costs and attorneys’ fees. (Ghiotto, et al., v. City of San Diego, No. D055029, Court of Appeal of California, 2010)
Final note: In this case, the employees were not providing essential services. They probably would have had no case if they had been called to the scene of a fire and were harassed as they carried out their duties. Instead, their claim was that their employer essentially set them up for ridicule and harassment.
- When you learn of possible harassment, investigate promptly, take fast action
- Add civility code to prevent avoidable lawsuits
- With promotions on the line, beware rivalries that could result in sex bias, harassment
- Sometimes, pregnancy rises to a disability
- Contract disclaimers in handbooks preserve at-Will status