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Supreme Court: No Need to Investigate ‘Silent’ Victims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

When the U.S. Supreme Court began its new term, one of its first moves was to reject a case that could have created new responsibilities for employers in investigating sexual harassment.

The case: A male sales rep for a Seattle TV station rebuffed the romantic overtures made by his female boss. When word leaked about the incidents, HR approached the sales rep. But he said he'd prefer to handle the matter himself, so the station did nothing except to check back in two weeks to see if he changed his mind.

Soon after, the sales rep quit and filed a sexual harassment suit. The lower courts dismissed his lawsuit, saying that even if he truly had been harassed, the TV station wasn't liable because he never voiced a complaint. No in-house investigation was warranted if the alleged victim said it wasn't needed.

The Supreme Court, in deciding last month not to hear the case, has now agreed with the TV station. The sales rep wanted the Supreme Court to rule that employers are required to investigate any rumblings of sex harassment, even if the employee doesn't want the case pursued. (Hardage v. CBS Broadcasting Inc., 05-1399)

Our advice: If an employee directly voices a complaint, follow it through to the end, even if the employee later gets cold feet. But if you hear about potential harassment through a third party and the alleged victim doesn't want to pursue it, you may not need to go further. Document that person's reluctance, citing his or her direct quotes.  

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