Here’s some good news: Just because a supervisor says or does something stupid or tasteless doesn’t mean the employer will suffer. Take an isolated incident that might be characterized as odd or creepy. While perhaps uncomfortable for the employees involved, most of the time it won’t result in a successful lawsuit.
Recent case: Michele worked for an insurance company. She sued after her supervisor had her transferred to another division.
She claimed that he had done so in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. Michele claimed that she had toldthat the supervisor walked into her office, leaned over her as she sat at her desk and put his chin on her head, breathed heavy and stated, “I want just one quote.” She described the incident as “creepy.” Soon after, she was transferred.
The insurer argued that the incident wasn’t sexual harassment and that Michele couldn’t have reasonably believed that it was either. Therefore, it argued, Michele hadn’t engaged in protected activity when she complained and any transfer wasn’t retaliation for that complaint. The court agreed, dismissing the case. (Flanagan v. GEICO, No. 11-CV-2682. ED NY, 2015)
Final note: Of course, don’t ignore complaints. Investigate fully. If the supervisor did what Michele said he did, admonish him that the behavior is inappropriate even if it wasn’t sexual harassment. Supervisors should never touch a subordinate in a way that could be perceived as offensive.