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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.

Must Sexual Harassment Victims Continue To Complain Until Someone Addresses Their Complaint?

Man and woman business workers on sexual harassment concept at office

Having represented sexual harassment victims for decades, our Citrus County sexual harassment lawyers have learned that when defending against sexual harassment lawsuits, employers routinely argue they cannot be held liable for any sexual harassment in the workplace unless sexual harassment victims exhausted all possible avenues made available under their sexual harassment policy for lodging sexual harassment complaints. In other words, employers demand that victims of sexual harassment, in order to preserve their rights, complain to each person designated under their sexual harassment policy for reporting sexual harassment. Unless sexual harassment victims go from person to person until they find someone who will address their complaints, employers maintain they are not liable for any harassment the sexual harassment victims endure in the workplace. In this article, our Citrus County sexual harassment attorneys explain how the decision in Dunlap v. Spec Pro, Inc., 939 F.Supp.2d 1075 (D. Colo. 2013) illustrates that sexual harassment victims are not required, as a matter of law, to exhaust all possible avenues made available under an employer’s sexual harassment policy for reporting sexual harassment in order to preserve their rights.

Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

In that case, a woman named Dunlap brought a sexual harassment case against her former employer, Spec Pro, Inc. (Spec Pro), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII makes workplace sexual harassment an unlawful discriminatory employment practice. To violate Title VII, sexual harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. Dunlap maintains that Spec Pro violated Title VII by requiring her to work in a sexually hostile environment.

Dunlap worked for Spec Pro as a postal service clerk. When Spec Pro hires a new employee, it gives him or her a copy of its employee handbook. Spec Pro’s employee handbook has a policy prohibiting sexual harassment. The sexual harassment policy provides that an employee must first contact his or her program manager to complain about sexual harassment. The sexual harassment policy further provides that if an employee’s complaint involves his or her supervisor, then employee should discuss the matter with the program manager or director, or otherwise may request an “independent discussion” with management outside the employee’s area. If an employee is not satisfied with the outcome of a complaint, the sexual harassment policy allows the employee to appeal to a higher level of management.

Sexual Harassment Complaints

Dunlap claims that, starting in 2005, she was subjected to unwanted sexually harassing behavior from two supervisors and three co-workers. Dunlap alleges that, between 2006 and 2008, she complained to a program manager, Albertson, about the sexual harassment. Dunlap asserts that she first complained to Albertson about the sexual harassment in 2006. She also claims that, sometime in 2007, she lodged another sexual harassment complaint with Albertson. Dunlap further claims that she complained about the sexual harassment to Albertson again in October 2008. Dunlap maintains that she had a book in which she kept track of the sexual harassment incidents, but that she gave the book to Albertson because he told her he would investigate her claims. Dunlap contends that, despite all of her complaints to Albertson, Spec Pro took no corrective action to stop the sexually harassing conduct.

Dunlap did not complain about the sexual harassment to a program manager other than Albertson and did not report the incidents to a Spec Pro director. In addition, Dunlap did not request a meeting with a manager from an area outside of her division.

Do Not Have To Exhaust Every Option

Spec Pro filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Dunlap’s sexual harassment claim. In moving for dismissal, Spec Pro argued that it could not be held liable for any sexually harassment Dunlap experienced because she did not complain to other program managers or directors once it became clear that Albertson would not take corrective action. Spec Pro contended that, given the availability of alternative avenues to make her complaint under its sexual harassment policy, it was unreasonable for Dunlap to continue to complain to Albertson. The trial court denied Spec Pro’s motion for dismissal and ruled that “whether it was unreasonable for Dunlap not to raise her complaints of sexual harassment with other program managers or directors at Spec Pro” was an issue for a jury to decide, not the trial court as a matter of law.

In support of its ruling, the trial court explained that because her immediate supervisors participated in the sexually harassing behavior, Dunlap complied with Spec Pro’s complaint procedure by reporting the harassment to an alternative program manager, Albertson. The trial court also observed that “Albertson allegedly lost Dunlap’s book that contained the dates of the sexual harassment incidents, making it uncertain whether raising the issue with another program manager would lead to tangible results.” The trial court also pointed out that Spec Pro “cites no cases that obligates an employee to exhaust every option identified in the employer’s handbook, especially when the handbook does not require exhaustion.” In other words, the trial court reasoned, Dunlap, in order to preserve her rights, was not required to “go from manager to manager” until she found “someone who [would] address [her] complaints.”

Citrus County, FL Sexual Harassment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have fought for the rights of sexual harassment victims for more than twenty years. If you have been required to work in a sexually hostile environment or have questions about your protection from sexual harassment under federal employment discrimination law, 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.

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