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Warn bosses: You could be liable for harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Ordinarily, if a subordinate sues for alleged sexual harassment under Title VII, there is no personal liability for that supervisor.

However, if the employer is a public agency or governmental unit, the rules change. A public employee is entitled to a workplace free of sex discrimination and harassment as a constitutional right. Bosses who violate that constitutional right can be held personally liable.

Recent case: Jennifer was one of several police officers who sued their employer and their direct supervisors personally over alleged sexual harassment. Jennifer claimed that her constitutional right to be free from sex discrimination was violated when her supervisor made sexually suggestive comments, frequently commented on her rear end, told her that her uniform should be more form fitting and tried to massage her shoulders. He also allegedly passed around a suggestive photograph of a woman wearing tactical gear and told other officers that the woman in the picture had a rear end similar to Jennifer’s.

Jennifer sued, alleging that her supervisor should be held personally liable for the sexual harassment she endured.

The court agreed she had a case. It found the incidents she described fit the definition of sexual harassment and that the supervisor should have known his behavior violated Jennifer’s constitutional rights. (Raspardo, et al., v. Carlone, et al., No. 12-1686, 2nd Cir., 2014)

Advice: If you are a public employer, train supervisors on the possibility of personal liability for harassment. That should get the attention of miscreant bosses. A jury verdict could mean lost assets, savings and retirement accounts and other dire financial consequences. That should be powerful incentive to behave maturely and not as if the workplace is a frat house.

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