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Stop ‘equal opportunity harasser’ even if law doesn’t cover you

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Steven and Karen Holman are not only married and work together in the same maintenance department, but they also filed suit together claiming sexual harassment by the same shop foreman. They each say he grabbed them and asked for sexual favors.

But the court threw out the Holmans' claim, saying their foreman's actions aren't covered under Title VII because neither of the two was treated differently because of gender. An appeals court, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court, noted that Title VII covers sexual harassment only when "members of one sex are exposed to disadvantageous terms or conditions of employment to which members of the other sex are not exposed."

In this case, the foreman was an "equal opportunity harasser", he treated both sexes equally badly. Therefore, he did not discriminate "because of sex." (Holman v. State of Indiana, No. 99-1355, 7th Cir., 2000)

Advice: When investigating sexual harassment complaints, see if the "equal opportunity harasser" rule applies by exploring and documenting all instances of harassment, including same-sex and bisexual harassment.

But even if this rule does protect you from liability under Title VII, you can't breathe easy. You still can be sued under state laws for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. That's why you need to stamp out any and all vestiges of sexual harassment, regardless of the victim's gender.

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