Employers that don’t do enough to combat sexual harassment in the workplace face liability under Title VII.
But it doesn’t follow that harassed employees can also sue under state law for negligent supervision. Employees have to be satisfied with the remedies under Title VII and can’t go for a larger jury award under state common law.
Recent case: Lisa claimed that she had to endure sexual harassment while working for Smithfield Packing Co. She said she complained to supervisors and HR, but no one would help her.
She then sued for sexual harassment under both Title VII and North Carolina state common law, alleging violations that included negligent supervision. Her claim was essentially that by ignoring her complaint, the company wasn’t supervising its employees closely enough, allowing the harassment to continue.
The court threw out that claim. It reasoned that North Carolina common law does not make sexual harassment an offense. Because it isn’t, it follows that in North Carolina, it isn’t negligent not to prevent or stop harassment. (Cooper v. Smithfield Packing Company, No. 7:13-CV-00145, ED NC, 2014)
Final note: The court also told Lisa she had to revise her sexual harassment lawsuit with specific examples of the harassment she claims she endured. Her initial complaint was general, merely alleging she had endured sexual harassment. She didn’t include any examples of exactly what she was talking about.
- Will your decisions hold up in court? Be prepared to explain apparent contradictions
- Don't pry too deeply when seeking proof of sick leave
- No evaluations? You could be called 'Out!'
- Address harassment complaint with thorough investigation—and quick action to fix problems
- No harm in accommodating, even without official ADA disability determination