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Mere days of harassment mean lawsuit when ‘Constructive discharge’ is involved

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

When it comes to sexual harassment under Ohio’s sex discrimination laws, a few days is all it takes to create a hostile work environment. Even if the harasser stops—instead turning critical and cold—the harassed employee may quit shortly after. Courts then will view the resignation as the effective equivalent of being fired in retaliation.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission is taking a tough stance on harassment cases, and Ohio’s appellate courts are backing them up.

Recent case: Theresa Smith took a job as a dental assistant in a busy practice and quickly found the dentist was a male chauvinist and a sexual harasser. During her first six days at work he asked her to dinner, suggested he could hook her up with “sugar daddies” who would pay her for sex, treated her to detailed accounts of his horses’ sexual habits and told her prostitutes hated men who used Viagra. He also grabbed her from behind and made suggestive comments while she worked on patients.

Smith complained and asked him to stop. He did. But then he refused to say good morning to her, criticized her work and made her work life unpleasant. She quit and sued.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission said the dentist’s behavior was severe and pervasive enough to constitute sexual harassment. It also said Smith was constructively discharged when she quit. The Court of Appeals of Ohio agreed. It sent the case back to calculate damages. (Jordan v. Ohio Civil Rights Commission, No. CA2006-08-031, Court of Appeals of Ohio, 2007)

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