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The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that managers who actually supervise the work of subordinates have a duty to report sexual harassment when they learn of it.

If they don’t, their employer can still be held liable. Therefore, it’s important for managers to understand that they must report harassment when they see it or otherwise learn it’s going on.

Recent case: Priscilla Huston, who worked as a technician on Procter & Gamble’s production floor, complained to HR about sexual harassment and having to work in a hostile environment. She claimed that her male co-workers sometimes exposed themselves to her and other employees.

Before Huston went to HR, she complained to two supervising technicians—senior techs who weren’t her bosses. They didn’t report her complaint to anyone within the company.

When HR received Huston’s complaint, it didn’t waste any time starting an investigation—it launched its queries the same day. Everyone was interviewed. Several employees were disciplined, and Huston never had another problem with her co-workers.

Then Huston was fired for falsifying plant records. That’s when she sued for harassment.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals had to decide whether the company knew about the harassment as soon as Huston complained to the supervising technicians or whether the company knew or should have known only when Huston went higher.

It concluded the supervising technicians weren’t the sorts of supervisors the law says must report sexual harassment to upper management. It limited that responsibility to plant managers and others who have greater supervisory authority than just keeping the production line working. (Huston v. Procter & Gamble, No. 07-2799, 3rd Cir., 2009)

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