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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Court Rules That Touching Victim’s Intimate Body Part Creates A Sexually Hostile Work Environment

Boss is harassing business woman while working, sexual harassment at work.

Having litigated sexual harassment cases in Florida courts for more than twenty years, our Sumter County, Florida sexual harassment lawyers know that employers defend sexual harassment cases by claiming that isolated incidents of offensive physical contact are insufficient to create a sexually hostile work environment. However, as explained by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128 (2d Cir. 2003), “courts have “repeatedly cautioned against setting the bar too high” for hostile work environment harassment claims. Thus, courts routinely find that acts of overt sexual contact, such as touching an intimate body part without consent, are adequate to create a sexually hostile work environment. In this article, our Sumter County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys explain how the decision in Reid v. Ingerman Smith, LLP, 876 F.Supp.2d 176 (E.D. N.Y. 2012) shows that a single incident in which the harasser touches an intimate body part of the victim is sufficient to create a sexually hostile work environment.

Victim Alleges Same-Sex Sexual Harassment

In that case, Karisa Reid (Reid) brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer, Ingerman Smith, LLP (Ingerman), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 (Title VII). Under Title VII, sexual harassment which is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment is an unlawful employment practice. Title VII also prohibits same-sex sexual harassment. Same-sex sexual harassment occurs when both the harasser and the victim are of the same sex. Reid claims that Ingerman violated Title VII by requiring her to work in a sexually hostile work environment created by her supervisor, a woman named Sadowski.
Reid was employed by Ingerman as a legal secretary. Reid’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claim was based almost exclusively on a single incident of sexual harassment. According to Reid, while she was waiting in Sadowski’s office to receive an assignment, Sandowski looked at her breasts, commented on their size, and then grabbed and squeezed Redi’s right breast. After realizing that her actions upset Reid, Sandowski then dismissed Reid from her office. Reid viewed the incident, which left her “humiliated and horrified,” as a “sexual assault” and “sexual advance,” but felt that complaining to Sadowski would be futile.
As a result of her rejection of Sadowski’s alleged sexual advance, Reid claims that Sadowski and another supervisor retaliated against her. Immediately after the incident, Sadowski changed Reid’s “entire schedule of duties and arbitrarily withheld work” from her. Reid’s other supervisor “falsely accused” Reid of sending the wrong letter to a client. When Reid met with Sadowski regarding the incident, Sadowski terminated Reid’s employment, without giving Reid a chance to defend herself, telling her, “You are a smart girl. You have a lawsuit. You are not entitled to unemployment, but we will not fight it.”

Sexual Touching Is Severe Sexual Harassment

Ingerman filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Reid’s sexual harassment claim. In doing so, Ingerman argued that the single, isolated incident of unwanted physical touching was not sufficiently severe to create an abusive working environment. The trial court denied Ingerman’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Reid’s allegations concerning unwanted sexual contact on a single occasion were sufficient to establish that a reasonable employee would find that the conditions of her employment altered for the worse.
At the outset of its opinion, the trial court explained that a “single incident can create a hostile work environment if it in fact works a transformation of the [victim’s] workplace.” “In such circumstances,” the trial court noted, “the single act must be extraordinarily severe.” In applying these principles, the trial court observed, courts have determined that “direct contact with an intimate body part constitutes one of the most severe forms of sexual harassment.” In grabbing and squeezing one of Reid’s breasts, the trial court pointed out, Sadowski intentionally touched an intimate body part of Reid. The trial court found that this single act of sexual touching was “extraordinarily severe” and sufficient to work a transformation of Reid’s work environment and create a sexually hostile work environment.

Consult With Wildwood, FL Harassment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Sumter County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys have dedicated their practice to representing sexual harassment victims. If you have been required to work in a sexually hostile work environment or have questions about your rights as a sexual harassment victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Wildwood, Florida sexual harassment lawyers. Our employee rights law firm takes sexual harassment cases 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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