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Deadly duo: Harassment followed by retaliation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When an employee complains about sexual harassment, how you handle it makes a big difference. If you ignore the complaint—or worse, blame the victim and punish her—you’re risking a laundry list of claims under federal and state laws.

Recent case: Luanesha, a janitor, complained to management that she had been sexually harassed. She de­­scribed an incident in which her supervisor told her he needed to show her a new job site. He told her to come to a Chapel Hill hotel to pick up her cleaning supplies. When she arrived, the supervisor allegedly forced her into the hotel room, prevented her from leaving and sexually assaulted her.

According to later testimony, Luanesha said he threatened her, telling her that he “would have her fired instantly if she ever told anyone about his actions” and that he was good friends with all of the managers. He told her that she should “give up” and have sex with him, that sex with him “was inevitable,” that “she could not stop him” and that “she would be punished if she did not give in.”

According to Luanesha, the har­­ass­­ing behavior continued. But when she told another supervisor who was a part owner of the janitorial ­company, he brushed her off and eventually fired her, allegedly telling Luanesha that “her complaints were a disruption of his business.”

She sued, alleging not just sexual harassment under Title VII and state law, but also intentional infliction of emotional distress and other North Carolina claims.

While the court dismissed some claims, it let most go forward, including one that can possibly impose individual liability on the part owner. (Alexander v. Diversified Ace, et al., No. 1:11-CV-725, MD NC, 2014)

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