When bosses hook up with subordinates, sparks may fly … in court

Romantic affairs at work are generally a bad idea, especially if they involve a supervisor and a subordinate. If the romance sours, the subordinate may claim sexual harassment and sue the employer. That’s reason enough to ban such relationships in the first place.

But here’s one worry you can lay to rest: Employees who aren’t involved in an affair with the boss won’t necessarily win a sex discrimination lawsuit if they don’t get the promotions or favors their co-worker got.

Recent case: David Krasner worked for a German bank that has offices in New York. He alleged that his boss was having an affair with one of Krasner’s female co-workers. He complained to HR that the relationship violated the bank’s ethics standards. Shortly after, he was terminated.

He sued for discrimination, but the court dismissed his case. It reasoned that unfavored co-workers aren’t the victims of sex discrimination just because a boss favors a paramour. Nor was reporting the affair a protected activity. (Krasner v. HSH Nordbank, et al., No. 08-Civ-8499, SD NY, 2010)

Final notes: Favoring a lover isn’t necessarily illegal discrimination, but that doesn’t mean employers should condone the practice. Whatever the legal consequences, affairs like this one certainly aren’t good for employee morale and don’t encourage merit-based promotions.

While Krasner didn’t win, he certainly cost his former employer money in needless legal fees. No word yet on whether he plans to appeal, either. The trial court strongly implied he should, on slightly different grounds.