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OK to punish supervisor harasser more harshly than co-worker harasser

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Supervisors can and should be held to a higher standard when it comes to enforcing workplace rules. That includes punishing a supervisor who harasses a subordinate more harshly than a co-worker who harasses a colleague.

Recent case: Vernard is a black male. He worked his way up to interim dean of workforce development at Alamo Community College in San Antonio. His job included supervisory and hiring responsibilities.

When he asked for a secretary to help him plan activities at off-site locations, he got a temp from an agency. Soon, the two were engaging in a sexual relationship that Vernard would claim was completely consensual. He broke up the relationship after the college changed its sexual harassment policy to ban even consensual relationships between supervisors and subordinates.

That’s when the woman filed a sexual harassment complaint with the college. She claimed that the relationship was not consensual and that she only participated because Vernard promised her a permanent job.

Alamo Community College fired Vernard, concluding he was guilty of sexual harassment and that the relationship had not been a permitted consensual one under the old rule’s criteria.

Vernard sued, alleging a Hispanic employee who harassed a co-worker was not fired.

The court tossed out Vernard’s case, noting that co-worker harassment is different from supervisor harassment and those in high-level jobs can be held to higher standards. (Grice v. Alamo Community College, No. 04-12-00524, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2013)

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