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Follow up on complaints to ensure mistreatment stops along with harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects employees from sexual harassment by co-workers. But what happens if management stops the harassment but the co-workers find other ways to make life miserable for their victims?

It’s HR’s responsibility to make sure a victim of sexual harassment isn’t targeted for other mistreatment—because such behavior will be counted as part of the original sexual harassment. That means the company can still be sued, and the harassed employee will be able to bring up the previous harassment.

The key is to follow up on all harassment complaints, even if you think they have been resolved.

Recent case: Yoko Dominguez accepted a temporary job in the mailroom, working for Washington Mutual Bank. Within two weeks, some of her co-workers realized she was a lesbian and started a harassment campaign. They asked her whether she was the “male partner,” what sexual positions she liked and other offensive and intrusive questions. Dominguez complained, and the co-workers were told to stop the commentary. They did.

But one co-worker then started trying to interfere with Dominguez’s ability to work by throwing balls of paper that would jam her equipment, blocking her access to work stations and by telling her there was no mail to sort and then dumping it on her after she had finished with all the other sorting.

Dominguez complained, but since none of the “practical jokes” was sexually oriented, management did nothing.

When Dominguez was later fired for allegedly being late, she sued, alleging she had been subjected to a sexually hostile environment. The bank said she had waited too long to sue, since the actual sexual harassment had occurred more than a year earlier.

But the court said she could have her day in court because the harassment was part of a continuing violation, which included the later stunts. (Dominguez v. Washington Mutual Bank, No. B195853, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2008)

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