Courts understand: Occasionally, romantic sparks fly between people who work together. They recognize that it’s not always harassment, even—under some circumstances—when the couple includes a supervisor. The key is whether or not the conduct is welcome.
Recent case: Tomoko Funayama, a woman of Japanese descent, worked for a Japanese company in Pennsylvania. The company president was apparently romantically interested in Funayama, as became evident when she went to his house to look at some furniture he wanted to dispose of. She examined the furniture, stayed on for dinner and then went out with him for a drink.
The president then took Funayama home. Before dropping her off, he allegedly grabbed her breast, kissed her and asked if he could come up to her apartment. She told him no and the next day told him she did not want a personal relationship.
Later, when the two were on a business trip, he suggested that they share a room. She again declined his advance.
Later still, he asked her out to dinner. She finally complained to HR, which suggested that Funayama again inform the company president that she was not interested in a romantic relationship. She did, and he told her he wouldn’t ask her out again.
Several years later, Funayama found herself facing transfer to another state when the company reorganized. That’s when she sued, alleging sexual harassment among other claims.
The court tossed out her sexual harassment and hostile work-environment claims. It pointed out that the behavior she complained about was not pervasive and that when she made her objections known, the behavior stopped. (Funayama v. Nichia America, No. 08-5599, ED PA, 2011)