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Never tolerate talk of sexual violence

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If anyone—a rank-and-file employee, a supervisor or even the CEO—makes comments suggesting sexual harassment or the possibility of sexual assault, crack down quickly. Otherwise, you are likely to face a nasty lawsuit, even if nothing criminal occurs.

Recent case: Erin was a rising star with J. Walter Thompson, one of Madison Avenue’s most renowned advertising and public relations firms. She rose to chief communications officer for the company and earned regular pay increases and large bonuses in that role.

Then the company took on a new male CEO with an apparent penchant for sex talk and making comments about women’s bodies. Erin did not get along with him, later alleging that he made it impossible for her to do her job. She complained numerous times to other executives and HR staffers about his behavior.

Erin was particularly offended by rape comments. For example, Erin claimed the CEO regularly suggested that women, including a specific female subordinate, should be “raped into submission.” On another occasion, the CEO allegedly burst into a meeting with female employees and asked Erin which female staff member he could rape. When Erin complained, he told her American women are too sensitive.

Eventually, as she continued to raise charges of sexual harassment, Erin was placed on paid leave. She filed suit and remains on paid leave, with reduced job duties.

The court said her case should go to a jury trial despite the firm’s argument that placing her on paid leave wasn’t an adverse employment action. The court said it was. (Johnson v. J. Walter Thompson USA, No. 16-CV-1805, SD NY, 2016)

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