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Humiliation, not just physical threats, can be harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Train supervisors to be on the lookout for all forms of sexual harassment, not just blatant abuse. For example, if they notice that another supervisor is constantly moving close to a subordinate, touching her on the shoulders, making sexual comments or otherwise behaving as if he wishes she were his significant other—then their harassment radar should go off.

They should report continuing “courtship” behavior to HR, especially if it’s obviously unwanted. Plus, every employee needs regular reminders on how to file a complaint or ask questions about what constitutes harassment. Victims may not realize they’re being harassed until their performance starts to suffer from the stress and humiliation. By then, it may be too late for you to stop the litigation express.

Recent case: Dawn Myers managed a time-share spa. For five years, she attracted the unwelcome attention of the company president and CEO. When she was finally fired because her work performance fell, she sued, alleging sexual harassment. She catalogued years of offhand comments, rose deliveries and almost constant light touching whenever she was in the CEO’s presence. But she testified that she never felt physically threatened.

The trial court dismissed her case, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said she should get a jury trial. According to the court, a reasonable person could easily have concluded Myers was humiliated by the constant attention—and humiliation is sexual harassment, too. (Myers v. Central Florida Investments, No. 06-13974, 11th Cir., 2007)

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