More than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court decided its biggest cases on sexual harassment and hostile work environment, women are still filing and winning sexual harassment lawsuits.
Many of those cases could easily have been prevented if HR and upper-levelhad taken regular, surprise walks through the workplace and rooted out obvious signs.
Recent case: Electrician Lynnette Harris worked for the city of Baltimore and was one of the few women working in the electric motor shop.
At the shop, Harris saw pictures of scantily clad and nude women on walls, in cubicles and even under the protective glass that covered the break room table. She also heard the words “troublemaker,” “bitch,” “whore” and worse almost daily.
She complained to her supervisor, who called a group meeting. It didn’t go well. At the meeting, a co-worker called Harris a bitch. When Harris objected, the co-worker asked the boss whether there was a rule against using that word. When told there was not, he then continued calling Harris a bitch.
Harris complained to HR, which conducted an investigation. Sure enough, the city decreed that the posters had to come down and the name-calling had to stop.
Then Harris sued, alleging a sexually hostile work environment. The court ordered a trial, concluding that the environment Harris described could certainly be considered sexually hostile. (Harris v. Mayor of Baltimore, et al., No. 09-1446, 4th Cir., 2011)
Final note: The city may be liable because it could have prevented the problem with training and earlier inspections.
Online resource: Train your supervisors about harassment prevention with our free “Memo to Managers” handout, What Managers Need to Know About Sexual Harassment.