Occasionally, employees work up the nerve to complain about sexual harassment only to get cold feet about pressing their complaints. What should you do if an employee complains, but then just asks for a transfer instead of identifying the alleged harasser? That’s the situation one employer recently faced.
Recent case: The EEOC sued Caterpillar on behalf of several women who claimed the company had failed to respond to their sexual harassment complaints. One of them, Virginia Early, claimed she called HR about a security guard who she said propositioned her.
According to the HR rep’s notes, Early said she wanted a transfer and didn’t want to identify the alleged harasser. Early got the transfer. Then she joined the EEOC sexual harassment lawsuit, alleging that the security guard had essentially threatened to rape her.
The court dismissed her claim. It reasoned that the company hadn’t known about the rape threat since Early hadn’t mentioned specifics. Plus, the company couldn’t really conduct an investigation since all it knew was that the alleged harasser was a male security guard. The court also pointed out that Early got what she asked for—a transfer—and that she never complained about harassment after she was moved. (EEOC v. Caterpillar, No. 03-C-5636, ND IL, 2009)
Final note: Always take contemporaneous notes whenever an employee reports harassment or discrimination. That way, you can prove what you knew and when you learned of it.
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