Employers: Groping An Employee Is Still Illegal
This is my first post-election post, and I have been giving the results a lot of thought as to if and how employment discrimination law will change. In this context, I will analyze new case decisions, new case filings, and best practices and try to comment on future expectations.
The EEOC just settled for $72,500 a race and sex harassment lawsuit filed against a Pennsylvania temp agency. It was alleged that the company sent two women for a one-day assignment to a customer in West Virginia, and that:
“While they were at the job site, two of the customer’s male employees subjected the women to offensive race and sex-biased comments, including racial epithets and remarks directed toward one of the women, who is multiracial, and overtly sexual statements; groping one woman’s breasts, and attempting to physically intimidate the two women.”
When they complained to the agency, it “retaliated against them by denying them a promised work assignment and firing them for their complaints.”
Takeaway: As my partner Amy wrote, sexual harassment is illegal – still. So is racial harassment. I don’t expect that to change, but I do have concerns that some employers will read the election rhetoric and results and ignore the law or think that workplace harassment will no longer be against the law. Or that “groping” is somehow OK.
And they may give up on or reduce harassment training, or forget that top down behavior and actions make a difference in the workplace, or forget to take a “zero-tolerance” position as to harassment.
To those employers: You let your guard down as to harassment in the workplace at your peril.
Whatever happens with the direction of the federal EEOC, remember that every state and most municipalities have similar anti-discrimination laws on the books (many of them more stringent than federal laws) and enforcement agencies. New York State and City are two examples.
And juries still do not like workplace harassment.
The EEOC District Director commented that “This settlement should remind employers that they have an obligation to take prompt and effective measures to stop harassment in the workplace. If the employer instead does the wrong thing and terminates employees who complain about harassment or discrimination, then EEOC will take action.”
And if for some reason the EEOC does not take action, you can be sure that the state and local agencies will.