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Act ASAP to end sexually hostile environment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It doesn’t take much for a work environment to become hostile enough to prompt an employee’s sexual harassment lawsuit. And if many incidents occur over time—or even if a handful of offenses are severe enough—the employee may have a winning case.

That’s why you must act fast upon the first reported incident to stop further problems.

Recent case: Sandra Brown-Baumbach worked as a loan financing manager for just four months before she quit in disgust over working conditions. She claimed co-workers and at least one supervisor created a sexually hostile work environment.

Brown-Baumbach recounted 10 separate incidents that she considered sexual harassment. One incident involved a supervisor who suggested that if Brown-Baumbach’s cousin, who was coming in for an interview, wore high heels, she would automatically be hired.

Then, after her supervisor sold a new car to an exotic dancer, he helped the customer move items from her old car to the new one. When he found a pair of “stripper heels” in the back seat, he held them up for Brown-Baumbach and said, “Sandy, look, these are what turn me on.”

Among the remaining incidents was a text message sent by a supervisor about Brown-Baumbach to another employee who asked whether she was wearing underwear that day.

Finally, Brown-Baumbach quit and sued.

The trial court dismissed her sexual harassment case, reasoning that the incidents, though perhaps unpleasant, weren’t severe enough to create a sexually hostile work environment.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It concluded that a jury should decide whether the 10 incidents were severe enough to create a hostile environment. (Brown-Baumbach v. B&B Automotive, No. 10-3351, 3rd Cir., 2011)

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