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Bosses may be personally liable for harassment

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If you are a public employer committed to discouraging sexual har­­assment, make sure your supervisory training covers the topic. In particular, ensure that supervisors know they aren’t immune from liability if they harass a subordinate.

Public employees have the right to be free from sex discrimination under the 14th Amendment and can sue their supervisor in both his official and personal capacities.

Recent case: Charvette worked as a correctional officer and sued her employer and her direct supervisor for sexual harassment. She claimed she had engaged in a consensual sexual affair with her boss, but when she tried to break it off, the situation devolved into sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

She said the supervisor became clingy, walked around with “puppy eyes” and kept touching her whenever he could. She said she reluctantly continued having sex with him for fear of losing her job.

Charvette broke up with the man once and for all, but soon learned she was pregnant. She attempted suicide, which caused her to have a ­miscarriage. When the super­visor found out, Charvette said, he got so angry that she requested a transfer so she could work on a different shift.

Then she sued. In court, Charvette testified she had heard that her boss had engaged in numerous affairs with other em­­ployees, firing several of them after their sexual relationships ended.

The court said she could sue the supervisor as well as her employer, because a reasonable person would have known that his behavior was unwelcome and amounted to sex discrimination under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment. (Williams v. Herron, No. 11-2894, 8th Cir., 2012)

Final note: See "What should we do about consensual relationship between manager and subordinate?" on how to deal with consensual workplace affairs and why they are almost always a bad idea.

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