There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle a sexual harassment complaint that may have involved physical assault.
Suspending the alleged harasser is the safest approach. Telling the allegedly assaulted employee to choose between accepting a transfer or working with the harasser is not. She likely will quit and fire off a claim that she was constructively discharged.
Recent case: Renee, a supervisor, was allegedly sexually assaulted by a higher-ranking shift supervisor. She claims he locked the door to her office late at night and repeatedly groped and kissed her while she asked him to stop and pushed his hands away. The assault stopped only when someone called the assailant’s name in the hallway. At that point, he allegedly told Renee that she sexually excited him and that she was “hot.”
Renee complained and the employer launched an immediate investigation. It concluded that the supervisor did engage in “inappropriate conduct,” but merely issued him a last warning.
Renee asked that she be separated from him. She was informed that could only happen if she accepted a transfer to a different shift with lower pay. She quit and sued, alleging she had been constructively discharged.
The court agreed she had enough facts to allege constructive discharge because, if true, her employer’s actions amounted to creating intolerable working conditions. (Teran v. JetBlue Airways, No. 15803, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York 2015)
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