Sexual Harassment—Still Illegal, And Attorneys’ Fees May Be Awarded Too
So, busy week.
I thought it best to start with a reminder: sexual harassment in the workplace is still illegal.
And while it abounds, if your employees sexually harass other employees not only might you be hit with a hefty damage award, but you may have to pay the attorneys’ fees of the person who was sexually harassed.
Such was the case with the Providence Fire Department and Lori Franchina, the firefighter I told you about (here) back in April who was awarded more than $800,000 in damages.
Her colleagues subjected Lieutenant Franchina to relentless and truly ugly harassment over the course of about seven years. Let’s remember why the jury awarded her damages, shall we?
- Lt. Franchina’s male colleagues subjected her to such intense and constant mistreatment that she was left in multiple situations where her actual safety was compromised;
- The acting lieutenant at the time gave her the nickname “Frangina” to rhyme with…well, you know;
- These geniuses publicly displayed a list of things they didn’t like about her, and they refused to help her in actual emergency.
- One male firefighter declaring “normally, I don’t like working with women” and “Are you a lesbian, or are you just doing everybody?”
Nice, huh? They kiss their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters with those same mouths. Disgusting.
Anyway, the harassment was so severe and so pervasive that Lt. Franchina developed PTSD. You get why the jury issued such a large award.
But there’s more. This week, a federal judge awarded $183,843 in attorneys’ fees to Lt. Franchina after a jury found she had been relentlessly harassed and discriminated against based on her gender and sexual orientation.
Remember, sexually charged comments made by an employee or supervisor to another employee may subject an employer to liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it rises to the level of sexual harassment and/or gender discrimination.
Guess what else? Title VII is a federal law, which means regardless of this week’s election, it is not going anywhere, and if you, as an employer, learn of sexual harassment and do nothing to stem or correct it, you, too, may be subject to paying a complainant’s damages (compensatory and punitive), attorneys’ fees, backpay, and front pay.
There are real financial penalties for violating Title VII. Let’s have a little basic human decency here and treat people equally and with respect. Otherwise, you, too, can find yourself looking down the barrel of a nearly $1M payout.