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Can Rumors That A Woman Was Hired Or Promoted Because Of A Sexual Relationship Create A Hostile Work Environment?

Asian women sexual harassment at working in the office Manager putting his hand on the shoulder of his

Having litigated sexual harassment cases in Florida courts for more than two decades, our Ocala, Florida attorneys for sexual harassment victims know that woman are often the subject of workplace rumors about how they were hired or promoted because of a sexual relationship. Unfortunately, a common employment law myth persists that sexual rumors in the workplace are not a form of sexual harassment prohibited by the federal discrimination laws. In this article, our Marion County, Florida lawyers for sexual harassment victims explain how a recent sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) demonstrates that sexual rumors in the workplace can create a sexually hostile work environment in violation of the federal discrimination laws.

Sexual Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit

In a press release issued on April 10, 2021, the EEOC announced that it has entered into a Consent Decree settling a sexual harassment lawsuit against Sealy Management Company, Inc. (Sealy). On September 29, 2020, the EEOC filed the sexual harassment lawsuit, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Sealy Management Company, Inc., Case No. 7:20-cv-01505, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. In the Consent Decree, which was endorsed by the U.S. District Court Judge on April 10, 2021, Sealy agreed to pay $88,786 to resolve the sexual harassment lawsuit.

Sexual Harassment Victims’ Rights

The EEOC brought the sexual harassment lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) on behalf of a former employee of Sealy, Ashley Butts (Butts). Title VII, which was enacted at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. Under long standing law, sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination prohibited by Title VII. In order to protect sexual harassment victims, Title VII also contains an anti-retaliation provision. Under Title VII, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who complain about perceived sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC claims that Sealy violated Title VII by creating and maintaining a sexually hostile work environment. The EEOC further claims that Sealy violated Title VII by retaliating against Butts for complaining about sexual harassment.

Sexual Rumors Create Hostile Work Environment

Sealy, which is based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, owns and manages apartment buildings. In March 2016, Sealy hired Butts as a leasing agent at its office in Tuscaloosa. In February 2017, Sealy promoted Butts to assistant manager of the Tuscaloosa office. In the position of assistant manager, Butts was supervised by a community manager named Pope, a regional manager named Hare, and worked with, among other co-workers, a maintenance technician named Davis.

In December 2017, Butts learned that Pope and Davis were spreading sexually explicit rumors and comments about her. In particular, Butts learned that Pope and Davis were telling employees that Butts had been promoted to assistant manager because she slept with Sealy’s president. Deeply offended by the rumors, Butts repeatedly told Pope and Davis that the rumors were false and asked them to stop spreading such malicious rumors.

Despite Butts’ repeated requests, Pope and Davis did not spreading sexual rumors. From December 2017 until the fall of 2018, according to the EEOC, Butts heard about the sexual rumors 40 to 50 times. From April 2018 through August 2018, Butts repeatedly complained to Sealy management about Pope and Davis spreading sexual rumors about her. Despite Butts’ repeated complaints, the EEOC alleges, Sealy took no corrective action and the unwanted rumors continued.

Sexual Harassment Victim Complains

In August 2018, Butts met with Hare. During their meeting, Butts made another attempt to address her sexual harassment complaint against Pope and Davis. The EEOC contends that Hare refused to listen and continuously told Butts to drop it or “let it go.” The next day, Hare had another meeting with Butts. During this meeting, Hare gave Butts a written disciplinary action and a three-day suspension for “insubordination” towards Hare the previous day. The EEOC maintains that the suspension was unjustified and was issued in retaliation for Butts’ sexual harassment complaints.

In early October 2018, Butts called Sealy’s president to complain about the sexual rumors. Yet again, the EEOC asserts, Sealy failed to take any corrective action and the unwanted sexual harassment continued. In late October 2018, Sealy management interviewed Butts, Pope, and Davis about Butts’ sexual harassment complaints. The investigation, according to the EEOC, was “grossly inadequate,” and neither Davis nor Pope were subjected to any disciplinary action.

Sexual Harassment Victim Claims Retaliation

Acting on the advice of her therapist, Butts took a two-month leave of absence from work starting on February 1, 2019 because of the effects of the sexual harassment. While on her leave of absence from work, Butts filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on February 4, 2019 alleging unlawful sexual harassment and retaliation.

On April 1, 2019, Butts attempted to return to work. Two hours later, Sealy management placed Butts on an unpaid administrative leave due to an alleged violation of company policy. On May 30, 2019, Butts told Sealy that, based on the recommendation of her therapist, she was resigning. Thirty days after Butts’ resignation, Sealy told Butts that her employment separation was being classified as a termination for violation of company rules. The EEOC maintains that Sealy mischaracterized Butts’ resignation as a termination in retaliation for her filing an EEOC charge of discrimination against Sealy.

Attorneys For Sexual Harassment Victims

The EEOC, which is an administrative agency of the federal government, is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the federal employment laws prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace. As part of its statutory mission to enforce the rights of sexual harassment victims, the EEOC files lawsuits in federal courts on behalf of employees against employers who have created or maintained a sexually hostile work environment.

In a press release issued by the EEOC on April 10, 2021 regarding the case, a regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, Marsha Rucker, explained that “the false and malicious rumors spread by Sealy’s employees created a hostile work environment that the victim endured for over one year.” In commenting on the case, the Director of the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, Bradley Anderson, explained that “spreading workplace rumors that a woman was hired or promoted because of a sexual relationship and not on her merit can create a hostile work environment.”

Ocala, FL Sexual Harassment Attorneys

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida lawyers for sexual harassment victims have dedicated their practice to representing employment discrimination victims, including sexual harassment victims. If you have endured sexual harassment in the workplace or have questions about your rights under the federal employment laws as a sexual harassment victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Ocala, Florida attorneys for sexual harassment victims. Our employment and labor law attorneys take 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.

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