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Emotional fallout from harassment may be a separate claim

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. Now a federal court has ruled that Pennsylvania law allows harassed employees to sue their employers for intentional infliction of emotional distress, too.

Recent case: Lisbeth Lerew worked for Cingular Wireless at a mall kiosk. She alleged that a co-worker grabbed her crotch, rubbed himself against her, sent her lewd text messages and told her to “cleanse herself so that he could perform oral sex on her.”

Lerew complained to a manager who refused to do anything—allegedly because the manager had co-signed a loan for the accused harasser and would have to pay the loan if he lost his job.

Lerew went higher, complaining to a regional manager. She then was transferred to another Cingular location, where she made less money.

Lerew sued, adding allegations of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Cingular tried to argue that any emotional damage was covered by workers’ compensation.

The court disagreed. It said that such direct and personal attacks are outside the workers’ comp system, and employees can sue their employers for such behavior. (Lerew v. AT&T dba Cingular Wireless, No. 1:CV-07-1456, MD PA, 2008)

Final note: Consider a rule that prohibits supervisors from co-signing loans or entering into financial deals with subordinates. Money creates friction and favoritism.

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