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Use eyes and ears to spot, stop harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Some work environments are more at risk than others for sexual harassment to develop and fester. And those employers have a special obligation to look for harassment—and stop it.

For example, if a few women now hold jobs traditionally performed by men, make sure the women aren’t being subjected to sexually demeaning or offensive conduct.

Make it your business to find out exactly what is going on. That’s how you might get the first clue that something is wrong. Ignorance is no excuse for an employer when the conduct would be obvious by a spot inspection.

Are there sexually suggestive posters? Do employees have a stockpile of soft porn magazines or worse in the restrooms, their trucks or other work areas? Do they tell crude jokes?

If you come across these hints that something is awry, it’s time to find out the extent of the problem and clean up the workplace fast. As the following case shows, the fact that nobody complains for years won’t be enough to prevent a jury trial when someone finally does speak up.

Recent case: Angie Taylor was the only woman working in the Fridley public works department. She worked there for 10 years until she was abruptly fired after she complained about longstanding sexual harassment. The city said she was fired for refusing to perform a job task.

She sued, claiming she had endured years of derogatory remarks about women in general, stashes of Playboy and other magazines, and calendars of scantily clad women everywhere.

The court said she was entitled to a jury trial. The court expressed doubt about the city’s reason for firing Taylor, given that she had never had any disciplinary problems before. (Taylor v. City of Fridley, No. 08-CV-5175, DC MN, 2009)

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