It started innocently enough. After Romelia Frazier's car was stolen, she rode to work for several months with another Delco employee, Bester Spears. He had just divorced a woman who had the same first name and also the same birthday as Frazier.
After Spears stopped driving Frazier to work, he would drive past her home, park and watch her. When she told him to stay away, he became angry and threatened to kill her.
Frazier immediately complained to a supervisor and her union, and she continued to complain as Spears haunted her at work, staring and glaring at her. The union rep told her not to file a grievance because he was working withto resolve the problem. She got a restraining order anyway.
Eventually, Spears was transferred to another plant. But two months later, Frazier was sent there, too. The glaring and other harassment continued, and the company refused to bar Spears from coming in contact with her at work. Frazier had a nervous breakdown and didn't return to work until Spears moved out of state two years later.
When Frazier finally filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company argued that the worst incident occurred outside the statute of limitations.
But the court ruled for Frazier. Reason: The clock didn't start ticking on the statute of limitations while Frazier had reason to believe that Delco would take steps to protect her. (Frazier v. Delco Electronics Corp., No. 99-2710, 7th Cir., 2001)
Advice: Respond to every sexual harassment complaint with an immediate investigation. After the investigation, give the employee a clear, written statement of how the company will respond to the complaint. That should minimize the likelihood that a jury will have to resolve a dispute over what the employee was told.
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