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Clean up graffiti or risk harassment lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

For five years, Allen Beach was a marked man at Yellow Freight. Offensive graffiti with his name was scrawled on the walls of dozens of trucks. Some of the milder messages: "Al Beach is gay" and "Al Beach sucks." Beach complained several times to management, but the company did very little. So he sued, alleging a hostile work environment. A court awarded Beach $36,000 in compensatory damages.

The graffiti created an unlawful hostile environment because it was unwelcome, ?was of a sexual nature and was pervasive enough to create an intimidating work environment. The company was liable because Beach proved that managers knew of the harassment and failed to take timely and appropriate action. (Beach v. Yellow Freight System, Nos. 01-3871 / 01-3963, 8th Cir., 2002)

Advice: Don't tolerate harassment of any kind, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Had Beach been a woman, Yellow Freight's managers would likely have at least responded to the graffiti complaints. But because he was a man, they probably didn't see this as a sexual-harassment issue. That's a big mistake. Same-sex harassment is also illegal, and it's your responsibility to make that point in your sexual-harassment policy and during mandatory sexual-harassment training.

Remember, while one crude remark won't likely equal a hostile environment, repeated and pervasive comments certainly will, and your inattention will make you liable.

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