Ever wonder what role employees who make sexual harassment claims have in fixing the problem? One court recently ruled they at least have to give the employer the opportunity to try to right the wrong.
Case in Point: Crystal Kurtts worked as a receptionist for a chiropractic clinic in Alabama. Her supervisor, Dr. Johnnie Morgan, allegedly began sending her offensive text messages requesting sexual favors. One day, Kurtts says, Morgan sent her 64 sex-based text messages in a two-and-a-half-hour period in which he "repeatedly demanded sexual gratification."
He also allegedly rubbed her shoulders when she was at her desk and would try to hug her when he saw her in the hallway. On one occasion, Morgan purportedly told Kurtts she could have a better work schedule in exchange for “small favors.”
Finally, Kurtts called the clinic administrator from her home and complained about Morgan’s behavior. Kurtts never returned to work after the call. Instead, she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the clinic.
Result: The court ruled in favor of the company. It noted that while the clinic had an anti-harassment policy with reporting procedures and Kurtts followed them, she did not give her employer any time to correct the harassment. The court said Kurtts “unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.”
It went on to say, “While the court cannot say whether or not (the company’s) sexual harassment policy would have ultimately proved efficient, there is no doubt that defendant was not given the opportunity to effectuate it.” (Kurtts v. Chiropractic Strategies Grp. Inc., S.D. Ala., 3/4/11)
3 Lessons Learned Without Going to Court
1. Have a policy. When was the last time you updated your anti-harassment policy? Now’s the time. Make sure sexual harassment has a special mention.
2. Have procedures. It is a best practice to have four alternative places to report harassment. For example, “any manager, any supervisor, the HR department or the hotline at 800-XXXX.”
3. Have a watch. The court noted the employer was never given a chance to take prompt effective action. Make sure you start an investigation as soon as you learn about the situation. Don’t let 24 hours pass you by.