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Got a hugger on your hands? He spells trouble

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Having a good sexual harassment policy in place doesn’t mean much if your supervisors ignore it. Take, for example, someone who is what we might call “touchy feely.” He greets employees with a hug. He may kiss them on the cheek or pat them on the back.

That probably makes some em­­ploy­­ees feel uneasy. It may also escalate into a sexually hostile work environment before anyone gets up the courage to complain. By then it will be too late.

Recent case: Dominique worked for Comcast as a customer service representative. Her workstation was in a large room. Every morning, her male supervisor greeted incoming employees with a hug.

Over several months, Dominique claimed that the supervisor also made sexual comments to her, complimented her legs, buttocks and lips. Once he moved her legs from the desk where she had them propped up. He also “accidentally” kissed her while leaning over her.

When Dominique finally complained, she was immediately transferred to a different team while her former supervisor was admonished to leave her alone. Even so, he continued his demonstrative greetings. Eventually, after another employee also complained, he was terminated.

Dominique sued, alleging she had worked in a sexually hostile environment.

Comcast argued that Domi­nique should have complained earlier since she knew the process.

But the court said the case should go to trial. Since the supervisor seemingly hugged and touched subordinates with impunity, Dominique could reasonably have assumed that complaining wouldn’t help. In effect, the court said Comcast didn’t have an effective sexual har­assment policy if it allowed harass­ment in plain view. (Thomas v. Comcast, No. 11-CV-1209, ND IL, 2012)

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