Sexual Harassment Doesn’t Justify Death Threats

Employees who complain about sexual harassment must use their employer's complaint process and the courts to address the issue, not threaten their supervisors. Attorney Bob Gregg explains this and other sex-discrimination-related legal issues.

Harassment does not warrant threats by social worker. A social worker was discharged because of having made threats to shoot her supervisor or set him on fire.  She sued for sex and age discrimination, claiming that the supervisor had subjected her to a pattern of harassment involving discriminatory requirements, stricter supervision and unfair performance evaluation. The court found little evidence of a sex or age connection to the alleged harassment. However, even if there was strong evidence of harassment, it would not justify death threats. An employee has a duty to use the employer’s complaint process and the courts to address discrimination. Engaging in threats is unacceptable and warrants discharge. Howell v. New Mexico Dept. of Aging (10th Cir., 2010).

Prompt response results in dismissal of case. A mining company achieved dismissal of a sexual-harassment case by showing prompt and effective response to an employee complaint. An employee complained that his male supervisor was sexually harassing him. The mine’s general manager promptly investigated, gave warning to the supervisor, and placed the employee under different supervision with no change in pay or hours. In the ensuing Title VII suit, the court ruled that the company met all the requirements of the Title VII Faragher defense and dismissed the case. Speigner v. Shoal Creek Drummond Mine (11th Cir., 2010).

Inadequate response to known sexual targeter. A female county employee was subjected to harassment by a sheriff’s deputy known to be a “sexual predator.” When hired, she was warned by others that the deputy was a “predator” and was well known to “target hot women” for traffic stops. He began a pattern of unwelcome romantic attention toward her. These progressed to physical touching. She complained. Instead of directly confronting the deputy, the sheriff gave a generic talk about inappropriate workplace behavior to all employees. The deputy continued the unwelcome attention, and the woman again complained. The deputy was ordered to attend harassment training. The female employee quit, claiming inadequate response, then sued for constructive discharge. The court found the county’s response was lacking. The county was aware of the deputy’s propensity for improper sexual behavior yet failed to even directly confront him. Even after a second complaint, it took only a slap-on-the-wrist approach. Mendoza v. Wasco Co. (D. Oregon, 2010).

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


  • I believe this was taken a little too far with the threats. That is what Human Resourses is for.

  • I am curious for details of the first story. It all makes sense if the age discrimination was because she was young. A younger person may not know proper reporting procedures, and her supervisor sure would not give her that information. Violence is never the answer. I doubt that was her first response, frustration probably led her to use language he would understand. Her lack of education or maturity let that jerk get away with sexual harrassment. Blame the victom, that always works…

  • Death threat is uncalled for in any case of sexual harassment. I think sexual harassment is an issue in the western world. In Africa, men are free to interact with women on sex talks and with men on jovial grounds. However, it becomes a crime when you sing songs with sexual harassment language to a woman in Africa.

  • I know this is a late response, but I’m surprised more people just don’t threaten and actually execute the action. Your article mentions this person should have reported it to the ranks and HR etc., however, it’s obvious you lack knowledge of how “Corporate America” works. You can file documented cases and the company always sides with management. I see people terminated that were victims of harrassment, doing their job (when their managers forced them to falsify data -abt) and so on. Unless your a miniority and even then you have little chance for “fair, equal and most of just treatment”, then make you look like the abuser rather than just a victim of circumstances. It will take a postal reaction in companies to just turn the light bulb on.

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