Don’t retaliate against harassment victim who calls police

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Here’s a risk you may not have considered: Ignoring a sexual harassment complaint may prompt the alleged victim to get help from outside law enforcement agencies. React inappropriately and you’re likely to have a retaliation suit on your hands.

You can’t discipline an employee for contacting police in a sexual harassment case—it’s a protected activity, and punishing for it is retaliation.

Recent case: Florida A&M University hired Dushun Scarbrough as an academic advisor. His female supervisor, who recommended he be hired, then allegedly made sexual advances to Scarbrough. He rejected them, including one advance he claimed happened at her house when she called him to a mandatory meeting there.

Scarbrough complained up the university chain of command and was told the matter would be investigated. Almost immediately, he claimed, his supervisors began loading him down with work. Scarbrough then applied for another position at the university and was told the job was his.

He claimed that’s when things really got dicey. His tires were slashed, and his supervisor allegedly swore at him, threatened him with violence and spit in his face.

Scarbrough complained to campus police, telling them that if he were a woman, the university would have done something about the problem long ago. He then went to the county courthouse and got a protective order.

What happened next is undisputed: The university fired Scarbrough for “unprofessional conduct” because he involved law enforcement.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said contacting police and seeking a protective order, even if it resulted in workplace disruption, could not be unprofessional conduct. An employee does not waive his right to police protection when he takes a job. The court ordered a jury trial. (Scarbrough v. Board of Trustees, Florida A&M University, No. 07-10195, 11th Cir., 2007)

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