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

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