Not every allegation of sexual harassment is well-founded, and some employees may be overly sensitive. That’s why your investigation should consider all sides, including the alleged victim’s reaction and treatment of the alleged harasser. As the following case shows, a thorough investigation may reveal that the problem is with the alleged victim’s perception and his or her response to the alleged harassment.
Recent case: Marvin Lee was a caseworker helping patients with mental retardation. Lee alleged that a co-worker on an overlapping shift had sexually harassed him by making homosexual advances.
He cited three instances: Once, while in a car together, the co-worker brushed his hand against Lee’s shoulder. Lee stopped the car and demanded that the co-worker never touch him again. On another occasion, when Lee was demonstrating to others a leg-stretching technique by using the co-worker as the dummy, the co-worker said, “That feels good.” Others laughed at the apparent sexual connotation of the comment. Finally, Lee claims he had to ask the co-worker to move out of the way as he tried to pass through a door.
Lee complained to a supervisor, announcing, “This gay stuff is starting to get psychotic,” and adding, “I’d hate
to write an incident report that someone fell down and got hurt."
The employer investigated both the alleged sexual harassment and the apparent threat. It concluded there had been no harassment, but suspended Lee for “stereotyping people with insults” and “threatening physical violence.”
Lee sued, alleging sexual harassment. But the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and tossed out the case. None of the behavior Lee described rose to the level of harassment. (Lee v. Comhar, No. 06-2811, 3rd. Cir., 2007)
- No need to investigate harassment complaints clearly not covered by anti-discrimination laws
- Time for a snap inspection: Make sure bulletin boards don't show signs of bias
- Change company culture to stop sex bias suits
- Prepare to justify any adverse employment action affecting members of the military
- Zero-tolerance drug policy? Make sure you uniformly apply it to all