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Will My Employer Be Liable For Coworker Sexual Harassment?

by | Oct 27, 2022 | Employment Law, Federal Law Update, Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Wrongful Termination |

How do you prove sexual harassment in the workplace?

Top Sexual Harassment Attorney Answer: In order to win a sexual harassment hostile-work-environment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employee must present evidence to show that (1) he or she experienced unwelcome sexual harassment, (2) the harassment was based on sex, (3) the sexual harassment created a hostile working environment, and (4) her employer is liable. (Best Law Read: What Is Sexual Harassment In The Workplace?; What’s The Difference Between Quid Pro Quo And Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment?; Yes, Straight Bosses Are Liable For Sex Harassing Lesbians).

How do I prove that I was working in a sexually hostile work environment?

Best Hostile Work Environment Lawyer Answer: To prove a sexually hostile work environment, an employee must present sufficient evidence to show that the sexually harassing conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment based on the totality of the circumstances. Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993). (Best Law Read: What Is A Legally Hostile Work Environment?; How Do I Prove My Hostile Work Environment Claim?; What Qualifies A Hostile Work Environment Under Title VII?).

How do you hold an employer liable for coworker sexual harassment?

Best Employment Law Attorney Answer: It is important to remember that the requirements to establish the employer’s liability for sexual harassment varies depending on whether the harassing conduct was done by a supervisor or coworker. While the employer is automatically vicariously liable for the sexually hostile work environment created by a harassing supervisor or manager, when the sexual harassment comes from a coworker, the employer is liable only “if it knew or should have known of the charged sexual harassment and failed to implement prompt and appropriate corrective action.” Clark v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 400 F.3d 341, 348, 513 (6th Cir. 2005) (Best Law Read: Does A Coworker’s Porn Create A Sexually Hostile Working Environment Claim?; Why Reporting Sexual Harassment Is Critical). To that end, an employer will be liable for coworker sexual harassment if its employer’s response “manifests indifference or unreasonableness in light of the facts the employer knew or should have known.” Hawkins v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 517 F.3d 321, 338 (6th Cir. 2008). Courts have typically held that the employer’s response is acceptable to block liability if it is “reasonably calculated to end the harassment.” Jackson v. Quanex Corp., 191 F.3d 647, 663 (6th Cir. 1999)). “Steps that would ‘establish a base level of reasonably appropriate corrective action’ may include promptly initiating an investigation[,] … speaking with the specific individuals identified” in the complaint, “following up with the complainant,” and “reporting the harassment to others in management.” Waldo v. Consumers Energy Co., 726 F.3d 802, 814 (6th Cir. 2013). (Best Law Read: Does A Coworker’s Porn Create A Sexually Hostile Working Environment Claim?; Why Reporting Sexual Harassment Is Critical; Does My Job Have To Stop Harassment By Customers?).

What is an example of what an employer should to do in response to my complaint of coworker sexual harassment?

Best Employee’s Rights Law Firm Answer: A recent case out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which is the federal court over Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee, provides a good example. In Garcia v. Beaumont Health Royal Oak Hospital, No. 22-1186, 2022 WL 5434558, at *1 (6th Cir. Oct. 7, 2022), Kristina Garcia worked as a respiratory therapist at Beaumont Health Royal Oak Hospital. During a midnight shift in July 29-30, 2018, Garcia, Rachel Luca, and Colleen Kaye, started discussing the varying qualities and styles of their bras when Garcia alleges Luca suddenly reached down Garcia’s shirt, pinched her nipple, and pulled her breast out of her bra. Garcia claimed that Luca responded to her objection by laughing and saying, “well, you have nice nipples.” Garcia waited a week to complain to a day-shift supervisor, who then conducted an investigation complete with interviews with Luca and Kaye, who both denied that the incident occurred. Despite concluding that the complaint of sexual harassment was unsubstantiated, the supervisor still warned Luca not to engage in any inappropriate conversations. Further, Beaumont never paired Garcia and Luca on the schedule to work together after the alleged sexual harassment and the two never had any interactions after that point. There were no further incidents of sexual harassment.

In moving to dismiss Garcia’s lawsuit for a sexually hostile work environment, the employer focused only the employer liability prong and argued that its response to Garcia’s complaints of sexual harassment by a coworker blocked her claim to hold it responsible. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed that the employer’s actions were reasonable to stop the sexual harassment, and held:

Employers are not strictly or even derivatively liable for a coworker’s sexual harassment. See Fleenor v. Hewitt Soap Co., 81 F.3d 48, 50 (6th Cir. 1996). Any liability employers face flows from their own negligence in responding to complaints of harassment. Id.; see also Hawkins v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 517 F.3d 321, 340 (6th Cir. 2008). Therefore, the relevant inquiry is not whether Garcia experienced harassment at the hands of a Beaumont employee or even whether she subjectively felt dissatisfied or offended by Beaumont’s handling of her complaint. Rather, the inquiry is whether Beaumont’s conduct in response to Garcia’s complaint was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Any reading of the record confirms that Beaumont’s response was objectively reasonable, as it was “reasonably calculated” (indeed, decisively successful) to end harassment.

Id. at *3-4.

How do I show that I was constructively discharged?

Best Wrongful Termination Lawyer Answer: Constructive discharge is an alternative means of proving wrongful termination where the employer has not taken any direct nor formal action against the employee. In order to establish a constructive discharge, an employee must present sufficient evidence that (1) the employer (through its managers or supervisors) deliberately created working conditions so intolerable or difficult that a reasonable person would be unable to continue working and feel forced to resign, and (2) the employer (through its managers or supervisors) did so with the intention of forcing the employee’s resignation. (Best Law Read: What Does “Constructive Discharge” Mean?; How Many Insults Equals Constructive Discharge?). Importantly, courts will evaluate the working conditions through an objective lens or a reasonable employee. Thus, the question is not whether the employee-plaintiff felt compelled to quit, but rather whether a reasonable worker in that situation would feel forced to resign.

In Garcia, the employee-plaintiff claimed that she was forced to quit because the employer scheduled her to work on the same shift – although not together – with Luca five times between October 13, 2018, and December 9, 2018 which was a period of eight weeks. Again, the two never interacted during those shifts. Moreover, Luca did not show up to work for the last two shifts scheduled during the first week of December because she had been arrested and fired by Beaumont. Garcia then quit her job on February 28, 2019 because she believed that Luca would be re-employed after getting released from jail.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that this did not amount to a constructive discharge: “Luca did not sexually harass Garcia at all after the July incident and the two were never paired together after Garcia’s initial complaint. What’s more, Luca had not even worked at Beaumont for over two months before Garcia resigned. As a matter of law, no reasonable person would feel compelled to resign under these circumstances.” Id. at *7 (Emphasis in original).

What should I do if I am being sexually harassment by someone that I work with?

Best Sex Harassment Attorney Answer: The most important thing to do is make sure that you are safe. Report the conduct up the chain at work, and if no one will listen, report it to the police. Sexual harassment is unlawful under Title VII and similar state laws. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. 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 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical). 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. It does not matter if you have been wrongfully fired or are still employed, there is no reason to wait to find out what your legal rights are and how to protect yourself from sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Call our top attorneys in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Youngstown, Detroit, and Raleigh.

Disclaimer:

The sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge materials available in this blog and at this gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and sex harassment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking “what should I do if my manager is texting me porn”, “I’m being sexually harassed every day by my supervisor” “my coworkers keep groping me and HR will not do anything to stop them”, “my boss keeps rubbing his penis against me,” “I’ve been wrongfully terminated,” or “how do I sue for a sexually charged workplace”, your best course is to contact a top sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to obtain advice with respect to sexual harassment/hostile work environment questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this employment law website are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.