It Should Now Be Clear: “Playful” Sexual Harassment And Abuse Is Actionable

In case you needed a reminder or a heads up: a $150,000 settlement is pretty good support for the proposition that “he was just being playful” is not an adequate response to a sexual harassment complaint.

It was alleged by the EEOC that a supervisor at a Bronx location of a nationwide provider of housing and support services, “regularly directed unwelcome sexual advances to female employees, made sexually offensive comments, and ogled women in the workplace. … [and] also treated female subordinates in a verbally abusive manner, shouting at them and belittling them and their work.”

Nice guy.

One employee repeatedly complained about this – but nada.

“A manager responded to one such complaint dismissively, stating that the supervisor engaging in the harassment was just being ‘playful.’”

This is the first I’ve heard of a response like this. Verbal abuse, sexually offensive comments … Did the manager not hear of the #MeToo movement? Or that even what was tolerated before (not this, for sure) is no longer tolerated?

The EEOC’s New York District Office Director said that “the EEOC will continue to ensure that employers take this kind of abuse seriously — and employee complaints about it.”

I think that women in the workforce will make sure of that.

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]