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No sexual harassment? Then no employer liability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

An appeals court has reversed a quarter-million-dollar punitive-damages award for sexual harassment. The problem: The employee couldn’t prove the alleged harassment was pervasive or frequent enough to constitute a hostile environment.

Recent case: Domaniqueca, a massage therapist, sued the spa where she worked, alleging that customers had sexually harassed her. A jury decided the problems weren’t pervasive or frequent enough to create a sexually hostile environment. However, it did find the employer liable for failing to prevent the harassing behavior. The court awarded $250,000 in punitive damages.

The spa appealed, arguing that if there was no harassment, there was nothing for it to prevent. The appeals court reversed, concluding that the employer wasn’t liable for failure to prevent harassment that didn’t occur. (Dickson v. Burke Williams, No. B253154, Court of Appeal of California, 2015)

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