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Head off harassment suits: Review all firings

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Most sexual harassment cases involve a sexually hostile work environment in which sexual innuendo, jokes and attitudes make clear that females are sex objects.

But there’s another type of harassment that hasn’t entirely disappeared: so-called quid pro quo harassment, in which a supervisor makes a pass at a subordinate and then punishes her if she rejects the advance.

Such cases, if jurors believe the victim, are hard for employers to defend. Your best bet is prevention. Institute a review process for all adverse employment actions such as demotions or terminations. Require a second signature before any firing becomes final.

Recent case: Ladonn Harris worked for a Days Inn in Toledo. When a new manager arrived at the motel, he immediately began complimenting Harris on her lips and making sexually suggestive comments. He also brushed up against her chest and tried to look down her blouse. She objected.

Then he called Harris into his office. He told her that he had once worked for the government and knew how to make people disappear. Then he asked if her husband lived with her at the motel. When she said he did, the manager fired her. When Harris asked if she was losing her job because she had rejected his advances, the manager allegedly warned her that “it’s your word against mine.”

She sued, alleging both types of sexual harassment.

The court tossed Harris’ hostile environment claim, reasoning that she hadn’t endured severe enough harassment to change the terms and conditions of employment.

But the court ruled that her quid pro quo harassment complaint should go to trial. The court said Harris met the basic requirements: She was terminated after refusing her supervisor’s sexual advances. (Harris v. Toledo Nights, et al., No. 3:08-CV-1951, ND OH, 2010)

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