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Never tolerate co-worker sex harassment, even if harm comes from words, not deeds

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employers have an obligation to open up jobs in all fields to qualified individuals of both sexes. And they must make sure women aren’t being targeted for harassment by their male co-workers.

Recent case: Tiffany Mosby-Grant wanted to be a police officer and registered to attend a training academy.

Some police cadets had been provisionally hired as officers; they received their training free. Others, like Mosby-Grant, paid to attend the academy, hoping to enhance their credentials. Mosby-Grant gladly paid her own way, confident that she would be hired by a local police department if she passed the course and qualified to use police weapons.

She was the only woman in the course. The program started on a high note with extensive sexual harassment training.

But on the last day of training, all the cadets had to take a shooting test.  When it was Mosby-Grant’s turn, the others berated her and laughed. That, she said, caused her to fail.

She sued, alleging that she had been forced to train in a hostile environment.

Her lawsuit wasn’t solely based on the laughter she experienced during the shooting test. Mosby-Grant said that was just the last straw. She described months of verbal abuse by male cadets. She said some called her “bitch” at every opportunity, and she said one instructor even used the term when addressing her.

Some of the cadets allegedly discussed pornography, sang vulgar songs and bragged about sleazy sexual conquests. Several opined that they disliked domestic violence cases because they believed that all abused women return to abusive men no matter what.

Plus, recruits made it clear that they thought Mosby-Grant was seeking special privileges because she was a woman. She said they never missed an opportunity to ridicule her during training assignments.

Mosby-Grant had complained to the supervisor numerous times. He even said that he was concerned for her and had never seen a group of cadets so lacking in true team spirit. But despite her complaints, nothing changed at the police academy.

From Mosby-Grant’s perspective, it was clear that the sexual harassment training the cadets received early on had been ineffective.

The court agreed with her, concluding that the case could go to trial. It said Mosby-Grant was able to offer ample evidence that the atmosphere was permeated by sexism and hostility toward women in general and Mosby-Grant in particular.

The court said that a work environment consumed by remarks that intimidate, ridicule and maliciously demean the status of women “can create an environment that is as hostile as an environment that contains unwanted sexual advances.” (Mosby-Grant v. City of Hagerstown, No. 09-2161, 4th Cir., 2010)

Final note: It’s not enough to merely provide sexual harassment training. You must follow up every time someone reports a problem. Show employees you mean business by appropriately punishing anyone who engages in sexual harassment, whether by words or deeds.

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