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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.

Supervisor Punishes Victim For Rejecting His Sexual Advances By Denying Her Overtime

male workers check out female coworker

Denial of overtime can be a means of retaliation, especially when rejecting sexual advances.

Having fought for the rights of sexual harassment victims for almost twenty years, our Alachua County, Florida sexual harassment lawyers have learned that harassers often inflict economic harm against their victims in order to punish them for rejecting their sexual advances. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, when the harasser is a supervisor of the victim and the harasser inflicts direct economic harm against the victim as punishment for rejecting the supervisor’s sexual advances, employers are automatically liable for the supervisor’s sexually harassing behavior. In most cases, supervisors inflict economic harm against their victims by firing them, demoting them, or cutting their pay. In Ray v. International Paper Co., no. 17-2241 (4th Cir. Nov. 28, 2018), the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that when a harasser denies a victim overtime work as punishment for rejecting his or her sexual advances, the denial of overtime work inflicts direct economic harm against the victim and renders the employer strictly liable for the supervisor’s sexually harassing behavior.

Employee Repeatedly Propositioned For Sex

In that case, Tamika Ray (Ray) brought a sexual harassment claim against her employer, International Paper Company (IPC), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).   IPC, which manufactures packaging boxes, hired Ray in 2012 to work as a bundler. In 2007, Ray was promoted to the position of operator. Ray alleged that her supervisor, a male employee named McDowell, began sexually harassing her in 2003. Ray claimed that McDowell sexually propositioned her, offered to pay her for sex, made sexual remarks, asked to see her genitals, and grabbed her thigh.

In 2013, Ray complained to two other supervisors about McDowell’s unwanted sexual behavior. Although the supervisors offered to “say something” about Ray’s complaint, she declined out of fear of retaliation. In early 2014, McDowell learned that Ray had complained about his conduct. McDowell confronted Ray and asked if she had reported him for sexual harassment. Ray denied making any complaints. McDowell told Ray that such a report could “get him in trouble.”

Employee’s Denial of Overtime

Around the same time in 2014, McDowell informed Ray that she could not longer perform “voluntary” overtime work before the beginning of her regular work shifts. Before McDowell took away the overtime work, Ray often arrived four hours before her scheduled work shift to perform overtime work. Because she was paid one and one-half times her normal rate of pay for overtime work, Ray earned around $24 per her instead of her normal rate of $16.24 when working overtime. Ray explained that these almost daily voluntary overtime hours were a “significant part of her earnings.” Although McDowell refused to allow Ray to perform voluntary overtime work, other operators were still allowed to work voluntary overtime hours.

In September 2014, Ray made a complaint about McDowell’s sexual harassment to employees in IPC’s human resources department. IPC took no disciplinary action against McDowell. Ultimately, IPC instructed McDowell not to communicate directly with Ray in the future. In November 2014 and June 2015, Ray made additional sexual harassment complaints against McDowell to employees in IPC’s human resources department. Again, IPC did not discipline McDowell.

Direct Link Between Harassment & Economic Harm

The trial court dismissed Ray’s sexual harassment claim. In doing so, the trial court concluded that there was no basis for holding IPC liable for McDowell’s sexually harassing behavior. The Fourth Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal and reinstated Ray’s sexual harassment claim. Although evidently ignored by the trial court, the court of appeals explained that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent employers are strictly liable for supervisor sexual harassment when the harassment culminates in an employment action that inflicts direct economic harm against the victim. In eliminating Ray’s voluntary overtime work, the appellate court determined, McDowell inflicted direct economic harm against Ray because the overtime hours were a “significant part of her earnings.”

The Fourth Circuit also found that there was a direct link between McDowell’s sexual harassment, including his sexual propositions and offers to pay Ray in exchange for sex, and the elimination of Ray’s voluntary overtime because McDowell was “responsible for the decision to eliminate Ray’s voluntary overtime work.” Thus, the court of appeals concluded, it was “impossible to separate McDowell’s motive for eliminating Ray’s voluntary overtime work from McDowell’s inappropriate conduct.” In other words, the appellate court reasoned, McDowell eliminated Ray’s voluntary overtime work in order punish her for rejecting his sexual advances. Consequently, because Ray’s sexually harassing behavior involved inflicting direct economic harm against Ray, IPC was strictly liable for McDowell’s sexual harassment and the trial court erred as a matter of law in dismissing Ray’s sexual harassment claim.

Free Consultation With Gainesville Harassment Lawyers

Our employment law attorneys have substantial experience representing employees who have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or have questions about being punished for rejecting a supervisor’s sexual advances, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Alachua County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys. 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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