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Draw line on harassing behavior, even against top company execs

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Over four months, a female co-worker slipped nearly a dozen sexually explicit pamphlets into the office mailbox of a company vice president, including one titled "Great Sex for Men over 50" and one about erectile dysfunction with a phony Post-it Note from the VP's much-younger wife.

When the VP complained to his general manager, the pamphlets stopped, but other problems began. Despite having good job reviews in the past, his general manager criticized his work, told him he had no future there and eventually asked him to resign. He did and sued.

The court threw out his sexual harassment claim, saying the pamphlets were "seedy and in bad taste" but not severe or pervasive enough to support a Title VII claim. But the court let his age discrimination and retaliation claims proceed. (Keown v. Richfood Holdings, No. 01-2156, E.D. Pa., 2002)

Advice: When harassment rears its ugly head, companies sometimes want to erase it by running both parties out of town. Resist the urge. Make sure your sexual harassment policy lets employees complain of such harassment without retaliation. Notify every employee of this rule.

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