Can Employers Be Held Liable For Sexual Harassment When The Harassment Stops After The Victim Complains?
For more than twenty years, our sexual harassment lawyers in Citrus County have fought for the rights of sexual harassment victims. Through their extensive experience representing sexual harassment victims, our sexual harassment attorneys in Inverness, Florida know that a common employment law myth is that employers cannot be held liable for sexual harassment unless the harassment continues after a complaint by the victim. An employment law myth zealously promoted by employers who routinely try to convince courts they are not liable for hostile work environment sexual harassment as a matter of law unless the harassment continues after the victim lodges a complaint. In this article, our sexual harassment lawyers in Citrus County explain how the decision in Schneider v. Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission,2023 WL 2500173 (N.D. Ohio March 14, 2023) illustrates employers are not immunized from liability for hostile work environment sexual harassment when the harassment ends after a victim’s complaint.
Employer Duty To Stop Sexual Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes sexual harassment an unlawful employment practice. In order to protect employees from sexual harassment, Title VII imposes a remedial obligation on employers. Once an employer knows or should know of sexual harassment in the workplace, the employer is obligated by Title VII to take prompt and effective remedial action to stop the harassment and prevent the harassment from recurring. The remedial action taken by an employer, as the court in Hawkins v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 517 F.3d 321 (6th Cir. 2008) explained, must be “reasonably calculated to end the harassment.” When an employer takes no remedial action, or the remedial action taken does not prevent the harassment from continuing, the employer is liable under Title VII for creating and maintaining a sexually hostile work environment.
Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
In Schneider, a woman named Schneider brought a sexual harassment claim against her former employer, Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission (TCVSC), pursuant to Title VII. Schneider claims that she was required to work in a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.
From March 2019 until May 2020, Schneider worked as an office administrator for TCVSC. Schneider alleges that between July 2019 and February 2020, a co-worker, Isenberg, subjected her to unwanted sexually harassing behavior. According to Schneider, Isenberg’s unwanted sexually harassing behavior included sexual advances, physical touching, sexual comments, and remarks about her body. For example, Isenberg, in the presence of at least one other co-worker, allegedly told Schneider that he wanted to make her “his sex slave” and keep her “locked up in a box in his basement.” On another occasion, Isenberg allegedly asked Schneider to send him nude photographs of herself to his phone.
Sexual Harassment Complaint
On February 20, 2020, Schneider reported the alleged sexual harassment to her supervisor, Delgado. After listening to her verbal complaint, Delgado asked Schneider to provide a written statement that she could share with her supervisor, Breuer, at a later time. Schneider provided Delgado with a written complaint on February 21, 2020, detailing the various alleged acts of sexual harassment by Isenberg. After receiving Schneider’s written complaint, Delgado informed Breuer about the existence of a sexual harassment complaint but did not share all the details of Schneider’s written complaint with Breuer. In response, Breuer issued Isenberg a written reprimand on February 21, 2020, and told him to stay away from Schneider.
On February 25, 2020, Delgado called Breuer and verbally read Schneider’s written complaint to him. After realizing the severity of the allegations, Breuer decided to reach out to the human resources department of Trumbull County for further guidance on handling the sexual harassment complaint. A human resources employee, Jackson, advised Breuer to instruct Schneider and Isenberg to “knock it off” because Jackson deemed it to be “mutual behavior” based on the circumstances of which he was made aware. Deciding to follow this advice, Breuer met with Schneider and Isenberg together in his office and informed them that “they would not be permitted to interact with one another in the future.” After being reprimanded, Isenberg stopped harassing Schneider.
What Employer Knew Or Should Have Known
TCVSC filed a motion with the trial court seeking the dismissal of Schneider’s sexual harassment claim. In moving for dismissal, TCVSC maintained that it was not liable for any alleged sexually harassing behavior Schneider experienced because the sexual harassment stopped after Schneider complained about the harassment and after Isenberg was reprimanded by Breuer. Thus, TCVSC maintained that it was not liable for any hostile work environment sexual harassment as a matter of law because the harassment stopped after Schneider complained. The trial court denied TCVSC’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Schneider was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on her sexual harassment claim.
In denying TCVSC’s motion for dismissal, the trial court focused on whether TCVSC knew or should have known of the sexual harassment before Schneider complained about the harassment in February 2020. The trial court observed that Schneider provided examples when Isenberg made harassing comments to her in front of other co-workers before she complained in February 2020. For example, a co-worker was present when Isenberg allegedly told Schneider that he wanted to make her “his sex slave” and keep her “locked up in a box in his basement.” The trial court also pointed out that there were “other times when Isenberg would allegedly harass [Schneider] while she was sitting at her desk and other co-workers . . . were within earshot.” The trial court further noted that another co-worker “definitely heard” some of Isenberg’s unwelcome comments directed at Schneider because the co-worker “seemed to encourage Isenberg’s behavior by saying ‘well, there you go. She’s not married, so keep at it.’ ”
Based on this evidence, the trial court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that TCVSC knew or should have known of Isenberg’s alleged sexually harassing behavior towards Schneider before she complained in February 2020. If TCVSC “knew or had reason to know that Isenberg was sexually harassing” Schneider before she complained in February 2020, the trial court explained, then TCVSC “did not take immediate corrective action until after” Schneider complained in February 2020. In other words, the trial court reasoned, if a jury found that TCVSC knew or should have known that Isenberg was sexually harassing Schneider before she complained in February 2020, then a jury could also find that TCVSC was liable for creating and maintaining a sexual hostile work environment in violation of Title VII because of its failure to take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent the harassment from continuing after it knew or should have known of the harassment.
Citrus County Sexual Harassment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida, and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of sexual harassment victims. If you have been required to work in a sexually hostile environment or have questions about your rights as a sexual harassment victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our sexual harassment lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes sexual harassment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.