It is human nature to root for good over evil; for morality to triumph over inequity; and for light to drown out the darkness. For this reason, most stories portray the plight of a hero fighting against the villain. This is not one of those stories. This is the tale of two horrible sides.
In the recently decided United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit case of Ossmann v. Meredith Corp., No. 22-11462, 2023 WL 5809642), the egregious conduct of Paul Ossmann, the former Chief Meteorologist met the appalling conduct of his employer, CBS46, Atlanta’s news station. Hired by Meredith Corporation in 2012, Ossmann’s inappropriate behavior escalated to outright sexual harassment after his promotion to Chief Meteorologist in mid-2017.
One of the earliest complaints emerged in April 2017, mere months before his promotion. A female meteorologist reported that Ossmann callously stated she had “cockblocked” him d. Shockingly, he went further, revealing a lurid dream he had about them engaging in sexual acts together. Additionally, he divulged to another female colleague that his “first three-way was with a black woman.” This behavior is not only inappropriate but blatantly offensive. A good employer operating with a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy would immediately fire the sexual harasser to prevent other women from being exposed to a sexually hostile workplace.
Yet, the employer’s Human Resources Director, Laurel Berenguer, and his supervisor, Frank Volpicella, astonishingly only gave Ossmann a mere written warning, citing “poor judgment.” This leniency is bewildering, considering the severe nature of his comments, and underscores a lack of appropriate action by the employer.
Approximately half a year later, a third female colleague lodged a grievance. She revealed Ossmann’s profoundly inappropriate messages sent via Facebook, detailing his explicit desires and sexual fantasies involving her, including that he masturbated while thinking of her. His words were explicit and in writing, leaving no room for interpretation. Despite this clear evidence of harassment, Ossmann’s supervisor, Steve Doerr, shockingly only told to him that his conduct did not violate company policy and gave him a final written warning. This is an affront to the principles of maintaining a safe and respectful workplace.
Over a year later, a fourth female employee came forward, detailing yet another instance of Ossmann’s misconduct. After a news segment, Ossmann pulled her aside, delivering a comment that likened her to a political figure, while discussing her appearance in an unsettling and inappropriate manner. This incident, though seemingly less explicit, was nonetheless discomforting and inappropriate. The fact that it took four such incidents to finally terminate Ossmann’s employment is nothing short of an indictment of the company’s failure to uphold a safe and respectful work environment.
How do you prove a claim of race discrimination?
To establish race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employee can utilize either direct evidence or the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Initially, the employee must establish a prima facie case of intentional discrimination. This entails demonstrating that: (1) they are a member of a protected class, (2) they suffered an adverse employment action, (3) they were qualified for the position, and (4) they were replaced by someone outside their protected class or treated less favorably than a similarly situated individual who is not in their protected class.
In Ossmann’s case, he successfully met the prima facie burden, as he belonged to a protected class (all races are protected) and experienced an adverse employment action when he was terminated. Additionally, the employer replaced Ossmann, who no one disputed effectively did his actual job, with Jennifer Valdez, a Hispanic meteorologist. Valdez had been with the station longer than Ossmann, and he admits that she was qualified.
However, it should be patently obvious to exactly everyone single person that the employer effectively rebutted any presumption by providing valid, nondiscriminatory reasons for termination based on Ossmann’s repeated violations of the company’s anti-harassment policy. This effectively negated the presumption of intentional discrimination. This clearly illustrated that the termination was not racially motivated but rather a response to his unacceptable behavior.
So, the sexual harasser lost – thankfully. But that does not necessarily mean that the evil employer won that allowed the sexual harassment to reoccur actually won. In addition to their utter incompetence now being a matter of public record – which should aid any women sexually harassed in the future – but it like cost the employer between $150,000 to $200,000 to defend this matter through appeal. And that comforts me just a little bit.
Best Sexual Harassment Lawyer Blogs on Point:
- Yes, You Can Be Fired For Not Reporting Your Boss’s Sexual Harassment
- Yes, You Can Be Fired For Boinking Your Boss’s Ex
- Yes, Managers Can Be Demoted For Not Reporting Sexual Harassment To HR
- Yes, You Can Be Fired For Screwing Up Brain Surgeries
- Yes, Police Officers Can Be Fired For Punching Civilians And Lying About It
What should I do if I am being sexually harassed at work?
If you find yourself enduring sexual harassment in the workplace or if you are wrongfully terminated for reporting being sexually harrassed, it is imperative to consult an attorney immediately. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, we offer a free initial consultation to help you understand your rights and explore your legal options. With our no fee guarantee, you won’t incur any legal fees unless we secure a favorable outcome for your case. Seeking legal help is crucial in safeguarding your rights and holding those responsible for harassment accountable.
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