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When talk turns to sex, watch out for harassment claims from unexpected victims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If bosses question employees about sexual relationships, you could wind up facing a sexual harassment complaint. And it may not be a simple case of quid pro quo harassment, but rather a hard-to-defend hostile environment claim.

Recent case: Paul Weiss worked for a group of auto dealerships. According to Weiss, the dealership’s owner was interested in a sexual relationship with one of Weiss’ female co-workers.

When the owner was rebuffed, he allegedly began questioning all the men about their relationship with the woman. Weiss claimed that although the woman denied she was having a sexual relationship with anyone, the owner kept asking Weiss whether he was having sex with her.

Eventually Weiss sued on various grounds, one of which was that he had to work in a hostile environment. The dealership argued that Weiss didn’t have standing to sue because the owner had asked every man about the woman.

The court disagreed. It concluded that the owner had spoken with Weiss specifically because Weiss is a man. Therefore, reasoned the court, he should get a chance to persuade a jury that he was harassed “on account of his sex.” (Weiss v. Hustedt Chevrolet, et al., No. 05-4230, ED NY, 2009)

Final note: Asking about sexual relationships should be off-limits for anyone who doesn’t work in HR.

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