Does the fact that sexual harassment is directed at both female and male employees make it okay? The answer, according to the Minnesota Supreme Court, is no. In Rasmussen v. Two Harbors Fish Company, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that sexual harassment need not be directed at the victims because of their gender in order to constitute actionable sexual harassment.
In Rasmussen, several female employees sued their former employer for sexual harassment. In their complaint, the female employees alleged that their former supervisor discussed his sex life with them, asked them about their sex life, discussed male genitalia with them, propositioned them for sex, and showed them pornography. The trial court held that this conduct was not severe or pervasive enough to rise to the level of sexual harassment. The trial court based its holding on the fact that the supervisor made these comments to both female and male employees. The Minnesota Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision of the trial court, and the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the appellate court.
In its decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court drew a distinction between a claim of hostile work environment based on gender and a claim of hostile work environment based on sexual harassment. The Court held that while the gender of the victim may be relevant to the former claim for gender discrimination (which asserts that the plaintiff was treated differently than similarly situated employees because of his or her gender), gender is wholly irrelevant to the latter claim for sexual harassment. Therefore, the Court held: “directed inappropriate, sexual comments at both male and female employees, therefore, cannot support the district court’s determination that the conduct was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute actionable sexual harassment.”
This makes sense. If the Court had come down the other way, it would have given a free pass to employers to engage in sexual harassment – harass as many women that you want as long as you talk dirty to a couple of men too. Can you image the defenses that would have been raise – “but, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Joe also talked about all the women he screwed with his male co-workers and he shared naked pictures of woman with male co-workers.” Had it gone the other way, an employer faced with a sexual harassment hostile work environment could choose between trying to correct the problem or definitely avoiding liability by further the problem by having sexual explicit conversations with males.
Amazingly, sometimes logic actually prevails. This type of conduct does not belong anywhere near a work environment.
If you feel that you are being sexually harassed or are working in a sexually charged or hostile working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney at 866-797-6040 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment lawyer/hostile work environment attorney to find out what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them.
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