Surprise, surprise: Employees at even smallest Georgia companies can file harassment lawsuits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Conventional wisdom holds that if you have fewer than 15 employees, workers can’t sue you for sexual harassment in Georgia. That’s because Georgia has no specific law against sexual harassment, and the federal anti-harassment law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) applies only to organizations with 15 or more workers.

Well, conventional wisdom is wrong.

Georgia employees can sue their employers for sexual harassment, no matter how small the organization. A recent appellate decision says workers can bring sexual harassment allegations by suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Recent case: Concepción Orquiola sued National City Mortgage for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Georgia state law. She alleged that her boss made a pass at her, asked her to engage in a sexual relationship and then conspired to fire her when she refused.

The company’s defense: It wasn’t liable because Georgia statutes contain no reference to sexual harassment.

Not so, ruled the appeals court. Even though no statute uses the words “sexual harassment,” employees can sue instead for intentional infliction of emotional distress, along with a host of other claims such as negligent supervision. (Concepción Orquiola v. National City Mortgage Co., No. 1:05-CV-0783, ND GA, 2007)

Final note: The case opens up a new avenue for clever attorneys who are eager to sue employers for sexual harassment but either can’t use Title VII because the employer doesn’t meet the 15-employee threshold or they missed the strict EEOC filing deadlines.  

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