What Must Employers Do In Response To Sexual Harassment Complaints?
For more than twenty years, our Citrus County sexual harassment lawyers have represented sexual harassment victims. Through their decades of experience handling sexual harassment cases, our Inverness, Florida has learned that many sexual harassment victims are unaware of the legal obligations imposed on employers after they report sexual harassment in the workplace. In far too many cases, sexual harassment victims continue to endure sexual harassment after lodging a sexual harassment complaint despite the legal obligation of employers to stop the harassment. In this article, our Citrus County sexual harassment attorneys explain how the decision in Strobel v. Westfield State University, 2022 WL 3214965 (D. Mass. Aug. 9, 2022) demonstrates that federal employment discrimination law imposes a remedial obligation on employers once they know or should know of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Employers’ Remedial Obligation
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on sex with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Discrimination based on sex that creates a hostile working environment is prohibited by Title VII. To violate Title VII, sexual harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile work environment.
Once an employer knows or should know of sexual harassment in the workplace, Title VII imposes a remedial obligation on the employer. To comply with Title VII’s remedial obligation, an employer must take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent sexual harassment from recurring. “In determining whether the employer failed to take prompt and effective remedial action to end the harassment,” as observed in Arraleh v. County of Ramsey,461 F.3d 967 (8th Cir. 2006), courts consider “the amount of time between notice of the harassment and any remedial action, the options available to the employer such as employee training sessions and disciplinary action taken against the harassers, and whether or not the measures ended the harassment.” When an employer undertakes no remedial action, or where the remedial action does not end the sexual harassment, the employer is liable for both the past harassment and any future harassment.
Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
In Strobel, a woman named Strobel brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer, Westfield State University (Westfield), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Strobel claims that Westfield violated Title VII by failing to respond promptly and appropriately to her complaint about sexual harassment by a co-worker.
Strobel was employed by Westfield as a maintainer for sixteen years. In July 2018, according to Strobel, a female co-worker grabbed her buttocks “in a sexual manner.” About eleven days later, the same employee grabbed Strobel’s buttocks “in a sexual manner.” In August 2018, Strobel made a sexual harassment complaint to Westfield. At some point, Strobel learned that the same employee had previously grabbed another employee’s breast. Strobel claims that Westfield was aware of the incident.
After several months of silence and apparent inaction, Strobel hired an attorney who contacted Westfield’s Vice President of Human Resources to inquire about the status of Strobel’s complaint. In March 2019, seven months after Strobel made her sexual harassment complaint, she received a letter from Westfield admitting that a violation had occurred. However, Westfield did not inform Strobel of any remedial action it had taken or would take in the future. Two days later, Westfield notified Strobel that the perpetrator was given a minimal suspension and required to participate in discrimination and harassment prevention training. Strobel’s attorney filed an appeal based on Westfield’s delay in conducting the investigation and the “lack of resolve in the consequences of the perpetrator.” Westfield stood by its decision.
Delay In Responding To Complaint
Westfield filed a motion with the trial court seeking the dismissal of Strobel’s sexual harassment claim. In moving for dismissal, Westfield argued that it was not liable for the alleged sexual harassment because it took prompt and appropriate remedial action after Strobel lodged her sexual harassment complaint. The trial court denied Westfield’s motion for dismissal and ruled that the facts alleged by Strobel were sufficient to establish that Westfield was liable for the alleged sexual harassment.
In denying Westfield’s motion for dismissal, the trial court focused on the lengthy delay in responding to Strobel’s sexual harassment complaint. The trial court observed that Westfield allegedly took “no action to address the alleged harasser’s conduct until [Strobel’s] attorney contacted [Westfield] some seven months after her internal complaint.” “Even then,” the trial court pointed out, Westfield “allegedly failed to disclose the remedial action it took or the steps it would take to prevent a recurrence of the employee’s harassment of [Strobel].” Thus, the seven-month delay in responding to Strobel’s sexual harassment complaint was evidence establishing that Westfield failed to effectively act promptly in response to her sexual harassment complaint. The trial court also noted that Westfield’s “delay in responding to” Strobel’s complaint, “which suggests a reluctance to address a problem in the workplace, lends some credence to [Strobel’s] belief that [Westfield] was on notice of the risk to co-workers posed by her assailant and failed to take appropriate remedial measures when first notified about the employee’s misconduct.”
Citrus County Sexual Harassment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida, and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have litigated sexual harassment cases in Florida courts for more than twenty years. If you have endured sexual harassment at work or have questions about an employer’s obligation to protect you from sexual harassment in the workplace, 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.