Prior Complaint About Sexual Harasser Shows Failure To Protect Future Sexual Harassment Victim
Having represented Florida sexual harassment victims for more than two decades, our Marion County, Florida sexual harassment victims’ lawyers know that many employers fail to protect employees from serial sexual harassers. Instead of promptly firing serial sexual harassers after their victims have lodged complaints, employers often fail to take any remedial action to prevent serial sexual harassers from continuing to prey on their past and future victims.
Once an employer knows or should know that an employee is being subjected to sexual harassment, a remedial obligation is triggered. An employer must take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent the sexual harasser from continuing to harass the victim. When an employer undertakes no remedy, or when the remedial action does not stop the harasser’s sexual behavior, the employer is liable for the sexual harasser’s past sexual harassment and any future sexual harassment—whether against the same victim or a different victim. In other words, an employer’s remedial obligation is not limited to protecting the present victim of sexual harassment, but also requires employers to take action reasonably calculated to prevent the sexual harasser from harassing other employees in the future.
In this article, our Ocala, Florida sexual harassment victims’ attorneys explain how the decision in Dowdell v. Culpepper & Associates Security Services, Inc.,
Case No. 19-4140 (E.D. La. Aug. 28, 2020) illustrates that when a past victim lodges a complaint against a sexual harasser, the sexual harasser’s future victims can hold the employer liable for the sexual harassment they endure because the employer failed to take effective remedial action to prevent the future harassment.
Employee Alleges Unwanted Sexual Touching
In that case, Nigil Dowdell (Dowdell) filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employee, Culpepper & Associates Security Services, Inc. (Culpepper), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII makes sexual harassment in the workplace an unlawful employment practice. Dowdell claims that Culpepper is liable for the hostile work environment sexual harassment she experienced because the company should have anticipated that she would become a victim of sexual harassment yet failed to take action reasonably calculated to prevent such harassment.
From March 2018 until July 2018, Dowdell was employed by Culpepper as a security officer at the New Orleans Veterans Hospital. On June 5, 2018, according to Dowdell, she was at work when her shift supervisor, Assad, put his hands between her legs and groped her genitalia. After the incident occurred, Dowdell claims that she reported the incident on June 11, 2018 to Culpepper’s office administrator. After Dowdell reported the incident, Assad was fired on June 12, 2018.
During the litigation, Dowdell offered testimony from another Culpepper employee, Thompson, regarding Assad’s prior sexual behavior in the workplace. Thompson testified that she was sexually harassed by Assad on more than one occasion and that she reported the sexual behavior to her supervisors. Thompson also testified that no one talked to her about Assad’s sexual behavior after she lodged her complaint. Thus, Thompson’s testimony reflected that Culpepper never investigated her sexual harassment complaint against Assad.
Failure To Protect Future Sexual Harassment Victim
Culpepper filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Dowdell’s sexual harassment claim. In doing so, Culpepper argued that it was not liable for Assad’s sexual touching of Dowdell because it took prompt and effective remedial action upon receiving Dowdell’s sexual harassment complaint by immediately firing Assad. By immediately firing Assad, Culpepper maintained, the company complied with its Title VII obligation to protect Dowdell from any further sexual harassment from Assad. The trial court denied Culpepper’s motion for dismissal and ruled that whether Culpepper took prompt and effective remedial action upon learning of Assad’s sexual harassment of Dowdell was an issue for the jury to resolve, not the trial court as a matter of law.
In denying Culpepper’s motion for dismissal, the trial court pointed out that “by just looking at this one incident” regarding Assad’s sexual touching of Dowdell, it would “appear that [Culpepper] took prompt remedial action” in compliance with Title VII. However, the trial court explained that employers have an affirmative duty under Title VII to protect employees from future harassment by the same harasser and remedy the situation of the harasser as a sexual harasser, not simply remedying the situation of the harasser as a sexual harasser of the present victim.
In applying this principle, the trial court observed that Culpepper should have anticipated that Dowdell would become a victim of Assad’s sexual harassment because Thompson had previously lodged a sexual harassment complaint against Assad. Despite having actual knowledge of Assad’s sexual behavior in the workplace, the trial court noted, Culpepper failed to investigate Thompson’s complaint or take any remedial action in response to Thompson’s complaint. Because Culpepper had actual knowledge of the previous incidents of sexual harassment involving Assad, the trial court concluded that it was for the jury to decide whether Culpepper acted appropriately in light of that knowledge to prevent the subsequent sexual harassment of Dowdell.
Ocala, FL Lawyers For Sexual Harassment Victims
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida sexual harassment victims’ attorneys have dedicated their practice to fighting for employee rights. If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or have questions about your rights as a sexual harassment victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Ocala, Florida sexual harassment victims’ lawyers. Our employees’ 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.