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 Buckley Beal LLP, LLC for an immediate case evaluation.