What some workers may consider “goofing around” or “horse
play” can have serious consequences. In a recent case out of Mississippi,
a nursing home supervisor pulled down the pants and underwear of a nurse
in front of several co-workers.
The nurse later resigned from the job, stating that the offensive conduct
made her job intolerable. She then filed a sexual harassment claim, explaining
that the conduct “created a hostile work environment” in violation
of Title VII.
Sexual harassment is probably the most well known form of employment discrimination.
What is not as well known is just what sexual harassment is. In order
to prove sexual harassment, you must show that you have been subjected
to unwelcome conduct that creates a hostile environment based on your
sex that is sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the terms and conditions
of your employment. Sexual harassment is not easily defined – if
you have questions about unwelcome conduct or believe that you have suffered
sexual harassment at work, it is a good idea to consult with a dedicated
Georgia sexual harassment lawyer at once.
Here, the nurse alleged that the supervisor “engaged in a constellation
of offensive behavior that ran the gamut from entering the bathroom while
she was using it to bragging about having sex with the company’s
nursing director, calling sex chat lines, and simulating ejaculation.”
He then yanked her pants and underwear down during an incident that occurred
in front of several co-workers.
Although this conduct seems to be clearly offensive – the case raised
several important points about harassment lawsuits. First, the employer
claimed that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the worker did not
complain about the incident. Instead, it became aware of the situation
when another employee complained. The company also stated that when it
gave the work the opportunity to file a formal complaint, she refused
to discuss the matter and instead quit her job.
If you believe you have been subject to harassment, it is always a good
idea to complain about the harassment to your employer. If you are subjected
to a steady stream of unwelcome and offensive conduct that is based on
your sex, you complain about the harassment to your employer, but your
employer does nothing about it, you probably have a strong claim of sexual
harassment. In many companies, there are personnel policies that spell
out what you must do if you feel you have been sexually harassed. If your
company has a policy, follow it to the letter. If your company does not
have a policy, find someone in authority and tell them about it.
In this instance, the court noted that even though the nurse failed to
take advantage of available methods (i.e. the internal complaint process)
to stop the harassment, she still could maintain her claim. Why? Because
it was questionable whether the employer’s “grievance policy”
was sufficient to address harassment complaints. Additionally, the employer
also failed to show any evidence that it trained employees in order to
prevent such harassment from occurring,
Another important point is that the employer claimed that the woman took
an active role in “pranks” at the workplace and laughed at
the incidents about which she later complained. She also did not file
complaints about any of the other workers who were involved in the behavior.
However, the worker stated in her harassment lawsuit that the supervisor’s
behavior was “so intolerable that she could no longer go to work.”
The court determined the woman may have laughed at the offensive behavior
simply as a coping mechanism.
As a result, the harassment lawsuit was allowed to continue.
Sexual harassment lawsuits can be tricky – it is often hard to define
just what is or is not harassing behavior. If you have questions about
sexual harassment or believe you have been subject to a hostile work environment,
please contact the dedicated
Atlanta sexual harassment attorneys at The Buckley Law Firm, LLC for an immediate consultation.