Is Going Out for Drinks Sexual Harassment?

Did members of a university's top management team carousing with "drinking buddies" lead to a $260,000 sexual-harassment settlement?

Sex Discrimination

Did carousing with drinking buddies create a $260,000 liability? A private educational institution has settled a sexual-harassment case for $260,000. Female employees alleged that three male supervisors engaged in sexual comments, sexual texting, solicitation for sex, and sexual touching. In settling, the university denied any wrongdoing. A former human-resources manager provided information that the university knew or should have known of the harassment, but no effective action was taken. The HR manager stated that the supervisors at issue were social and drinking buddies with top management, and this relationship impaired the ability of the women to effectively complain or get attention to the situation. The EEOC stated that there was a breakdown in the process by those who should have taken action. EEOC v. High Tech Institutions, Inc., d/b/a Anthem College Online (D. Arizona, 2011).


A $60,000 settlement for retaliation by HR manager. Two female employees will receive $60,000 to settle a case alleging that their HR manager threatened to fire them for reporting sex discrimination in job assignments. The company will also post notices of the settlement and provide management training on discrimination. The company denied any wrongdoing. EEOC v. Chrysler Group LLC (E.D. Wisconsin, 2011).

Black manager retaliation case against Black employee over race discrimination. A Black airline customer-service representative complained that his white supervisor was discriminating against him, enforcing rules more harshly than for white employees and allowing white employees special privileges denied to him. The complaints were made to a Black station manager who advised that the complaints should be kept “in house” and allegedly warned that he could be fired if he kept complaining. The employee complained about continuing discrimination. The station manager allegedly said that she was “tired of his complaining” and recommended his termination. In the ensuing Title VII and Ohio discrimination-law case, the court found sufficient evidence of retaliation for a trial. Hill v. Air Tran Airways (6th Cir., 2001).

Jury awards $1.5 million to gay officer; city could have settled for $100,000. A gay police officer won a $1.5-million jury verdict for retaliation. He complained about anti-gay remarks. He was then subjected to extra scrutiny and “petty” discipline and transferred to an undesirable assignment. The jury ruled that these were acts of retaliation. The officer made a pretrial request to settle the case for $100,000, but the city refused. Crump v. City of Los Angeles (Cal. Superior Ct., 2011).

Religious Discrimination

Seventh Day Adventist not entitled to all Saturdays off. An employer is not required to violate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or valid seniority system for a religious accommodation. In Harrell v. Donahue (8th Cir., 2011), a postal worker’s request for his Saturday Sabbath as a regular scheduled day off was declined. He sued for religious discrimination. The court held that the request would violate the CBA and impose an undue hardship on other workers and could be validly denied.

Bob Gregg, a partner in Boardman Law Firm, shares his roundup of diversity-related legal issues. He can be reached at


  • That last one is sad. What about hassidic Jewish people who also celebrate the sabbath and cannot work that day? Sometimes I think there is more discrimination against Seventh Day Adventists’ Saturday requirements because they are not as well know as most other religions. Then again, perhaps a Jewish person who has to observe the Saturday Sabbath without work obligations does not take a job at the post office.

    For a Seventh Day Adventist, Saturday is an issue of extreme seriousness. If they do not observe the Sabbath, they are putting their salvation in jeopardy. I’m surprised that it’s not seen as religious discrimination to refuse to provide them that day off. The thing is, an Adventist can’t really test the waters by telling an employer in an interview they are going to want Saturdays off for religious reasons, or they will get passed over for the position, which IS religious discrimination. Then, they are in a position and request the time off and the employer can just say “well, you should have asked during the interview process, and I would have told you we are not able to do that.” It’s a tricky situation for everyone involved.

  • If one is unable to work on a special day, I would say do not apply to a place of employment that is open on that day, to be fair to others.

  • As is widely known with workplace discrimination claims, the accuser overwhelmingly needs a solid case with plenty of willing witnesses to get believed and supported. For women seeking to build relationships with co-workers and looking for career mobility, socializing is required. The issue with drinking is that alcohol can adversely impact one’s better judgment resulting in taking risks and crossing lines that can easily be considered as inappropriate. From this conversation, my hope is that more men will speak up in social settings when other men start crossing the line with female colleagues, before it gets too carried away. Not inviting women to socialize is not a solution, it’s a penalty.

  • Seems like that last one was decided on the rules of the collective bargaining unit (i.e., union) that the Seventh Day Adventist willingly joined. I’m not sure how the courts deciding that an employee should be held accountable to an agreement he or she made is discrimination. Could someone clarify?

  • Guest #1, It’s not about having a strategy, it’s about having the facts and law on your side. Some things are illegal and cross the line.

  • First of all it is sad that retaliation is alive and well, but what’s worse is the fact that people are forced to or freely choose to sue.

  • To avoid misunderstandings about religious holidays, etc., an employer should state working conditions in the interview process, e.g., “This job requires employees to work occasional Saturday shifts.” Then, whatever the reason, a prospective employee will know what they are signing on for up front.

  • All full-time employment positions should be open to everyone. Accommodation should be made unless way too many persons require the same accommodation.

  • at this point everything is sexual harassment. i know several people who have been charged or fired for sexual harassment for alleged advances against their co-workers, and these people were just regular rank-and-file. most of these alleged cases are not against “top management”, where the issue there really is the culture of the organization and power, but against supervisors and male co-workers that the women don’t like or have some issue with. i’m totally in favor of restraining sexual predators anywhere, but making a friendly gesture (unless repeated after a request to stop), but a lot of this is exaggerated or contrived against people.

  • james newsom

    Are there any plans to allow state government agencies to compete in the survey as you now allow federal agencies?

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