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).

Retaliation

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 rgregg@boardmanlawfirm.com.

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