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Take strong stand against harassment with policy—and punishment for harassers

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in Human Resources

There’s no sure way to protect your organization from a rogue supervisor who sexually harasses a subordinate. However, you can reduce your liability with a strong, proactive stand against any supervisor/subordinate personal relationships.

If you prohibit such relationships and punish those who break the rules—especially supervisors—you stand a fighting chance of rooting out such behavior before it leads to a large jury award.

Recent case: Scott Singleton worked for New York City and attracted the attention of his supervisor, Robin Walker. Singleton claimed Walker made repeated sexual advances toward him, which he spurned. He then claimed that Walker called and sent a letter to Singleton’s girlfriend (who was the mother of his child), falsely describing in graphic detail Singleton’s supposed unfaithful behavior.

Singleton’s girlfriend left him, and he became depressed. Then he sued.

A jury believed his version of events and awarded him $1 million in damages for his pain and suffering. The judge then reduced the damages to $300,000.

The city appealed, claiming even $300,000 was too much and that—even if everything he said was true—Singleton hadn’t really been subjected to a sexually hostile environment.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn the jury’s decision and said there was plenty of evidence from which the jury could have concluded the environment was sexually hostile, and that the supervisor’s antics harmed Singleton. (Singleton v. City of New York, No. 07-1105, 2nd Cir., 2009)

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