‘Manspreading’: Obnoxious, but not necessarily harassment

While some behavior may make others uncomfortable, that doesn’t automatically mean the offended worker has a sexual or other harassment case. Take, for example, the often ridiculed male posture colloquially referred to as “manspreading.” In a recent case, a court concluded being exposed to a few instances of “manspreading” did not a sexual harassment case make.

Recent case: Georgina supervised a group of doctors who worked as medical consultants. She often clashed with one male doctor, who persisted in asking her to lunch several times. He frequently yelled at co-workers and once tried to touch Georgina’s hair.

But the incidents that she claimed “went too far” involved sitting on a chair with his knees spread wide apart. She claimed he did this a total of three times. HR investigated and he chose to resign.

Then Georgina sued, alleging sexual harassment. The court dismissed the case, reasoning that the employer acted promptly before the behavior escalated. None of the behavior was severe or pervasive, and it stopped after Georgina complained. (Huskey v. California Department of Social Services, Court of Appeal of California, 2017)

Final note: There may be times that you push an employee to resign after questionable behavior. While the subordinate may not have created a hostile environment quite yet, the signs were there that he might soon. Particularly if the accused employee shows no sign that he or she understands the behavior was inappropriate, the best solution may be suspension or discharge.