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Leave harassment investigation to the pros

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

There are compelling reasons to outsource or at least get legal help with a sexual harassment complaint. First and foremost, the investigation must be quick, thorough and reasonable.

Employers that drop the ball and don’t punish what looks like a clear case of sexual harassment face a long, uphill battle in court.

Recent case: Kristin was a food and beverage manager at a country club. When the club hired a new clubhouse manager, he became her supervisor. Soon, he sent her an email asking if she was interested in golf lessons. Apparently thinking he was talking about scheduling instruction with some of the club’s golf pros, she answered yes.

But that’s when she discovered that the new supervisor, whom she knew was married, wanted to provide personal lessons—and dinner, too. She declined the offer, saying she wasn’t interested in romance.

The overtures continued. She started getting phone calls even while on vacation with her family and boyfriend. When she said she would report the behavior to HR, things got more complicated.

The supervisor confronted Kristin with emails she supposedly had sent that included sexual innuendo.

She went to HR, explaining that she had not written the emails. The supervisor didn’t cooperate with the resulting investigation and refused to provide access to his electronic devices in order to determine whether he or Kristin created the emails.

Kristin sued, claiming the investigation was inadequate. Soon, she found her performance criticized, and she was eventually fired.

The club argued that Kristin hadn’t felt harassed. While the trial court sided with the club, the appeals court reversed.

It said there was ample evidence for Kristin to present to a jury showing harassment and retaliation. (Dawson v. Country Club of Rancho Bernardo, No. D064654, California Court of Appeal, 2015)

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