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Aftermath of an affair: Beware harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

You can’t stop all romantic entanglements at work, but you can and should make sure the post-affair fallout doesn’t disrupt the workplace.

Recent case: Nicole worked as a nurse at the University of Texas Medi­­cal Branch at Galveston. She and a fellow nurse, Leon, had an extramarital affair while working on adjacent units on the same floor. Their spouses also worked for the university, but in different departments.

Apparently, Leon was a busy guy. Another employee approached Nicole, claiming she also had a relationship with him. The two women then went to Leon’s work area and confronted him. At the end of their shifts, Nicole followed Leon to the parking lot and ended their relationship.

Leon went to his supervisor the next day and claimed that Nicole had sexually harassed him. Both were told to stay away from each other. Nicole, however, did not listen and instead continued to meet Leon at work, seeking to just “be friends.” Leon again complained.

HR considered firing Nicole, but she had specialized skills that might prove hard to replace. HR decided to retain her and transfer Leon to end the ongoing conflict surrounding the breakup. It didn’t work. Nicole kept looking for Leon at work. That’s when HR concluded that the only way to end the problem was to terminate Nicole.

She sued, alleging she had been singled out for more severe punishment because of her gender. She thought Leon should have been fired.

The court disagreed, deciding the hospital didn’t terminate Nicole because she had an affair with Leon. It terminated her because she wouldn’t leave him alone after the affair ended. Her post-affair behavior was sexual harassment. (The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston v. Petteway, No. 14-11-00498, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2012)

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