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Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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A recent federal case from the District of New Jersey denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment on an employee’s sexual harassment case, paving the way for a jury trial. In the process, the court provided a good overview of what an employee needs to prove to be able to survive such a motion and get a case to a jury.

Joan Lane worked as a Material Handler for Sears Logistics Services, Inc. She was the only female who held this role on her floor. She claims the Material Handler Lead for her shift, Louis Fine, engaged in unwelcome conduct toward her including (1) calling her a “b*tch;” (2) calling her “dumb;” (3) “inviting her to [his] penis;” (4) claiming “all [she] wants is my d*ck;” (5) telling her to sit on his face; (6) making sexual gestures to her; and (7) claiming a temporary employee wanted her body. Ms. Lane eventually filed a lawsuit against her employer claiming Mr. Fine created a sexually hostile work environment for her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).

Sexual HarassmentAs the court explained, in a sexual harassment case the employee has to prove the conduct toward her (1) would not have occurred but for her gender, and (2) was severe or pervasive (frequent) enough (3) to make a reasonable woman believe the terms and conditions of her employment were changed and her work environment is hostile or abusive. The judge found Ms. Lane has enough evidence to meet each of those requirements. He indicated that even though Mr. Fine denied Ms. Lane’s allegations, for purposes of deciding a motion for judgment the court has to assume all of her testimony and evidence is true because it is the jury’s job to decide who is telling the truth. The judge further recognized that Ms. Lane’s evidence could support the conclusion that she was the victim of severe or pervasive sexual harassment. Moreover, he found a jury could conclude the harassment occurred because of her gender since she was the only female Material Handler on her floor and some of Mr. Fine’s conduct toward her was sexual in nature.

In addition, the court ruled that Sears Logistics could be held liable for Mr. Fine sexually harassing Ms. Lane. One of the most common reasons a company can be liable for harassment committed by one of its employees is if the harasser is a supervisor. In this context, a supervisor is someone who “has the authority to hire, fire, discipline, control employees’ wages or control employees’ schedules,” or someone the victim of the harassment reasonably believes has that authority. The court found a jury could conclude Mr. Fine was Ms. Lane’s supervisor since she testified he told her he was responsible for directing her daily work environment.

The court indicated a second way a jury can hold Sears Logistic responsible for Mr. Fine sexually harassing Ms. Lane is based on evidence the company did not have an effective anti-harassment policy and its response to Ms. Lane’s complaints about Mr. Fine’s harassment was inadequate. Under New Jersey Law, a company that does not have a sufficient anti-harassment policy can be held liable for harassment committed by its employees. Ms. Lane presented evidence that the company did not even bother to interview her as part of its investigation into her harassment complaint. In addition, there is evidence suggesting the company never disciplined Mr. Fine for his behavior toward her. Accordingly, in Jane v. Sears Logistic Services, Inc., the District Court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment so a jury can decide whether the company is liable for sexual harassment.

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Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an unpublished summary order which reinstates an employee’s sexual harassment claim that had been dismissed.  However, in a separate published opinion issued on the same day the court upheld the dismissal of Ms. Castagna’s related tort claims because she did not file her lawsuit until after the statute of limitations had expired.

Boss shouting at assistantPatricia Castagna worked for Majestic Kitchens, Inc., as its receptionist.  She alleges Bill Luceno, who is the owner of the company and was Ms. Castagna’s supervisor, harassed her because of her sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”).  Prior to the appeal, the trial court had dismissed those claims because Ms. Castagna admitted Mr. Luceno treated virtually all of the company’s employees poorly.

In support of her sexual harassment claims, Ms. Castagna claims Mr. Luceno physically threatened her and two other female employees with physical violence, but never physically threatened any male employees.  For example, she claims that on one occasion he screamed and cursed before he shoved her computer monitor toward her, which caused her to fear for her safety. Although she acknowledges Mr. Luceno’s had outbursts toward both male and female employees of Majestic, she claims the most extreme outbursts were directed toward women, and that during some of his outbursts he referred to women as “bitch[es].”

In reversing the trial court, the Second Circuit explained that threats of physical violence can be very strong evidence to support a hostile work environment claim.  It also indicated the fact that Mr. Luceno only threatened women supported an inference that he was targeting them because of their gender.  It ultimately found all of the evidence, considered together, would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Ms. Castagna’s workplace was hostile and abusive because of her gender.  Accordingly, the court issued a summary order which reversed the trial court’s ruling that had granted summary judgment to Majestic.

The appellate court also reinstated Ms. Castagna’s constructive discharge claim, and asked the trial court to consider it on its merits.  The lower court had dismissed that claim on the basis that there is a higher standard to prove a constructive discharge than to prove an harassment claim, and it had found there was not enough evidence to support an harassment claim.  But since the Second Circuit disagreed and found there is enough evidence to support a hostile work environment claim, it instructed the trial court to determine whether there also is enough evidence to support a constructive discharge claim.

However, in a separate opinion the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of Ms. Castagna’s claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery because she filed them after the one year statute of limitations had expired.  It ruled that even though Ms. Castagna filed a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 300 days after the harassment occurred, and her tort claims are based on the same facts as her harassment claim, filing with the EEOC does not toll the one year statute of limitations on other claims.  Rather, if Ms. Castagna wanted to pursue her tort claims she needed to file a lawsuit within one year after the relevant events occurred instead of waiting until the EEOC finished its investigation into her harassment claim.  Accordingly, in a formal published opinion in Castagna v. Luceno, the court affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing Ms. Castagna’s tort claims.

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Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that neither the New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL) nor the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) protect unpaid interns from a sexually hostile work environment.

New York Law Does Not Protect Unpaid Interns from Sexual Harassment.jpgLihuan Wang worked as an unpaid intern for Phoenix Satellite TV US, a company that produces Chinese language television news programs in the United States. She alleges one of the company’s bureau chiefs, Zhengzhu Liu, invited her to talk to him about her job performance after a group lunch meeting, and then convinced her to go to his hotel room based on the excuse he needed to drop off some personal belongings. During the car ride to the hotel Mr. Liu made Ms. Wang extremely uncomfortable by discussing the sexual prowess of a black man who had dated a woman he knew. In the hotel he complemented Ms. Liu’s eyes before bringing her to his room. Once in his hotel room he asked her why she is so beautiful, threw his arms around her, attempted to kiss her, and squeezed her buttocks before she left.

After Ms. Wang rejected Mr. Liu’s advances, he suddenly stopped showing any interest in hiring her as an employee, and claimed Phoenix could not hire her because of a supposed “visa quota.” When Ms. Wang subsequently asked Mr. Liu about a potential job with Phoenix, he invited her to go to Atlantic City with him for the weekend, supposedly to discuss job opportunities. Ms. Wang declined his invitation and gave up on the possibility of a paid position with Phoenix.

Ms. Wang eventually filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of both the NYHRL and the NYCHRL. However, in Wang v. Phoenix Satellite TV US the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed her hostile work environment claim.

Ms. Wang acknowledged the NYHRL applies only to “employees,” rather than unpaid interns. However, she argued the NYCHRL is much broader and applies to all individuals whose work is controlled by the company, whether or not they are paid. She relied on a previous case which recognizes the company’s right to control the individual’s work is the primary factor to determine whether she is an employee of a particular employer. The court rejected her argument, finding the right of control is used to determine which entity is an individual’s employer, not to determine whether someone is an employee at all.

However, the court did not dismiss Ms. Wang’s claim that Phoenix failed to hire her as an employee. It is, of course, unnecessary to prove you are an employee to establish a failure to hire claim since those claims are always brought by potential employees rather than actual employees. The court found there was enough evidence to support the conclusion that the company refused to hire Ms. Wang for a vacant position in violation of both the NYHRL and the NYCHRL. While the ruling is not entirely clear, it appears Ms. Wang’s remaining claims assert that Phoenix did not hire her because she refused to give into Mr. Liu’s sexual advances, and allege this constitutes quid pro quo sexual harassment claim and unlawfully retaliation.

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Earlier this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit clarified how the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) applies to a sexual harassment claim. In the process, the court ruled that Renee Mihalik can proceed with her case against her former employer, Credit Agricole Cheuvreux North America, Inc.

New York City Human Rights Law and sexual harassment.jpgMs. Mihalik, a resident of Hoboken, New Jersey, worked for Cheuvreux in New York City. She claims she experienced sexual harassment from Cheuvreux’s Chief Executive Officer, Ian Peacock. More specifically, she alleged Mr. Peacock ran the office like a “boys’ club,” made sexually suggestive comments, and propositioned her for sex twice. Ms. Mihalik sued Cheuvreux for gender discrimination in violation of the NYCHLR.

Last year, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed Ms. Mihalik’s case. It ruled there was not enough evidence to support a sexual harassment claim. But on appeal, the Second Circuit disagreed. It applied an earlier state court case which recognizes the NYCHRL is Broader than State and Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws, and reversed the decision. The NYCHRL was amended in 2005 to require it to be “construed liberally” to accomplish” its “uniquely broad and remedial purposes” regardless of what New York State and federal anti-discrimination laws say.

More specifically, under both federal and New York State law, to be legally actionable sexual harassment has to be severe or frequent. But that is not true under the NYCHLR. Rather, an employee only has to show she was treated “less well” than other employees because of her gender.

At the same time, the NYCHRL cannot be interpreted as a “general civility code,” and does not create a legal claim for every “overbearing or obnoxious boss” unless the boss’s conduct is at partially due to the employee’s gender (or another legally prohibited factor, such a race, age or disability). As a result, if an employee proves her employer treated her worse because of her gender, the company can avoid liability if it proves its conduct was merely “petty slights and trivial inconveniences.” In making this determination, a court has to consider all of the circumstances, including the context in which the alleged discriminatory conduct occurred. Depending on the situation, even a single discriminatory remark can be actionable under the NYCHRL.

Applying these standards, in Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux North America, Inc. the Second Circuit ruled that Ms. Mihalik’s must be sent back to the district court so she can have a trial. For example, it found there is evidence that men at Cheuvreux objectified women by looking at pornography, discussing trips to strip clubs, rating the appearance of female employees, and commenting about women’s bodies. It also found evidence that Mr. Peacock told Ms. Mihalik that men should be respected because they are “male” and “more powerful” than women. There also is evidence that Mr. Peacock sexually propositioned Ms. Mihalik twice. The court ruled that if a jury believes this evidence, it can conclude that Cheuvreux treated Ms. Mihalik worse because she is a woman, and the discriminatory mistreatment was more than petty slights or trivial inconveniences.

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A question that often comes up in sexual harassment cases is whether you can rely on harassment you learned about secondhand to help prove your case. For example, can you use the fact that one of your coworkers told you that someone else made sexually offensive comments about you to help prove you worked in a sexually hostile work environment?

Sexual Harassment - secondhand evidence.jpgTo prove a sexual harassment case, you need to show you experienced conduct because of your gender that was severe (bad) or pervasive (frequent) enough to make a reasonable woman believe the conditions of her employment were altered and her working environment was hostile or abusive. In determining whether your workplace was sufficiently hostile or abusive, a judge or jury is supposed to consider all of the circumstances, including how frequently the discriminatory conduct occurred, how severe it was, whether it was physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interfered with your job performance.

There are many cases that recognize an employee can rely on secondhand information in a sexual harassment case for certain purposes. For instance, you can rely on evidence that other women were harassed to help show the treatment you experienced was because of your gender, rather than motivated by something else. That is true even if you did not learn about the harassment the other women experienced until after you left your job.

But can you consider evidence of discriminatory conduct you learned about secondhand to prove your workplace was hostile? Most federal courts that have considered the issue have ruled that as long you were aware of the harassment when you were working for the company, you can use evidence of harassment you learned about from someone else to prove that your work environment was hostile. This includes the United States Courts of Appeals for the Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits, as well as numerous District Court decisions including the District of New Jersey. As a result, for those of you in New York State, at least assuming your case is in federal court, evidence of harassment you learned about secondhand should be available to help prove your workplace was hostile.

However, there is language in a 2008 New Jersey Supreme Court opinion, Godfrey v. Princeton Theological Seminary, which says that when proving her work environment was hostile, a woman must rely on “evidence of bad conduct of which she has firsthand knowledge.” If interpreted literally, that could mean a plaintiff cannot rely on evidence of harassment she learned about secondhand, even if it actually contributed to make her work environment hostile. But in Godfrey, since the harassment occurred before the employees who brought the lawsuit started working for the employer, it was neither directed at nor witnessed by them. As a result, it is not surprising the court found the women could not rely on this evidence to prove their work environment was hostile.

Given New Jersey’s strong public policy in favor of prohibiting sexual harassment from the workplace, I doubt the New Jersey Supreme Court intended to rule that an employee can never rely on harassment she learned about second hand. Rather, evidence of harassment that you learned about secondhand should be relevant as long as it actually contributed to making your work environment hostile. Of course, that will not prevent employers from arguing that this type of evidence is inadmissible under Godfrey.

For more information about the Godfrey case, please read our previous article: New Jersey Supreme Court Clarifies Sexual Harassment Standard: Repeatedly Asking for Dates is Not Sexual Harassment.

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When an employee brings a harassment claim under federal law, one element of her claim is that she was harmed by the harassment. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently recognized that an employee can meet that requirement even though she personally sent emails containing sexual jokes at work.

The employee in question, Shannon Mandel, worked for M&Q Packing Corp. as an Inside Sales and Customer Relations Coordinator. She alleges she experienced sexual harassment including:

    sexual harassment of women at work.jpg

  • Calling her “woman,” “darling,” “fluffy,” “missy,” “hon,” “toots,” “too female;” and “too emotional;”
  • Commenting about her body, clothing, and physical appearance;
  • Paying her less than her male peer;
  • A male manager telling her a meeting would take place at his house, and they would conclude their part of the meeting in the morning;
  • Another male supervisor indicting he fantasizes about her while having sex with his wife; and
  • A third male manager asking her on dates even after she told him she was not interested

Ms. Mandel resigned shortly after a fourth male manager called her a “bitch.”

Previously, the District Court had dismissed Ms. Mandel’s sexual harassment claim, finding there was not enough evidence for a jury to conclude she was harmed by the harassment. It relied heavily on the fact that Ms. Mandel frequently used vulgarity and sent emails containing sexual jokes at work. The District Court found this behavior demonstrated Ms. Mandel’s “casual ease with this type of workplace behavior.” While the court recognized that did not necessarily mean Ms. Mandel had not been harmed by the harassment she experienced, it also concluded she had no evidence she had experienced emotional distress as a result of the harassment, or that the harassment made it more difficult for her to perform her job. It also indicated the only time Ms. Mandel complained about the harassment was after she was called a “bitch,” and she made that complaint to a coworker rather than to a supervisor or the Human Resources Department.

In Mandel v. M&Q Packaging Corp., the Third Circuit strongly disagreed. It indicated it was “disturbed” by the District Court’s conclusion that no reasonable jury could find Ms. Mandel was harmed by the harassment. It explained that even though Ms. Mandel engaged in unprofessional conduct by using vulgarity and sending sexual jokes, the harassment she experienced was “often worse and apparently uninvited.” Further, it disputed the District Court’s conclusion that Ms. Mandel only complained about one incident of harassment. In addition, it recognized that Ms. Mandel had stated under oath that the harassment caused her harm. Accordingly, it found a reasonable jury could conclude that Ms. Mandel was harmed by the sexual harassment, and reversed the District Court’s decision to dismiss her sexual harassment claim.

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Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s decision to dismiss two employees’ sexual harassment case against their employer, the Mercer County Youth Detention Center. In Wallace v. Mercer County Youth Detention Center, the Appellate Division ruled that a jury needs to decide whether the employer’s anti-harassment policy was effective. Employers can be held liable under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) for sexual harassment committed by a coworker if the employer did not have an effective anti-harassment policy.

Moneck Wallace and Tina Stewart, two female employees who worked for the Mercer County Youth Detention Center, claim a male coworker, Jerel Livingston, sexually harassed them. Ms. Wallace and Ms. Stewart both complained about the sexual harassment. After conducting an investigation, the employer concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support their claims. The two women then filed a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Sexual Harassment at Work.jpgThe trial judge dismissed the case even though it found that Ms. Wallace and Ms. Stewart had enough evidence to prove that Mr. Livingston sexually harassed them. However, it concluded that their employer could not be held liable for the harassment because the alleged harasser was not a supervisor, and Ms. Wallace and Ms. Stewart did not have any evidence that their employer was aware of the harassment but failed to respond to it.

The Appellate Division disagreed with the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case. It explained that an employee might be able to prove her employer is liable for harassment committed by a supervisor or coworker if the employer did not have an effective anti-harassment policy.

The Appellate Division concluded that Ms. Wallace and Ms. Stewart had enough evidence to allow a jury to conclude that Mercer County did not have an effective anti-harassment policy. This included evidence that it:

  1. Did not effectively inform its employees about its sexual harassment policy;
  2. Did not provide adequate anti-harassment training to its employees;
  3. Did not effectively enforce its anti-harassment policy;
  4. Did not conduct a sufficient investigation into the alleged sexual harassment;
  5. Did not use clear criteria when it evaluated whether the sexual harassment claim was substantiated; and
  6. Did not have effective procedures to evaluate whether its sexual harassment policy was effective.

As a result, the Appellate Division sent the case back for a trial at which a jury will decide those issues.

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from harassing and otherwise discriminating against employees based on their race, national origin, color, religion, and sex. Under Title VII, when a supervisor harasses an employee, the company often has a defense if it can prove (1) it used reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct harassment, such as by having an anti-harassment policy, and (2) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of an opportunity to stop the harassment, such as by not objecting to it under the company’s anti-harassment policy. This defense is often referred to as the Faragher/Ellerth defense, based on the names of the two United States Supreme Court cases that created it.

But would it be reasonable for an employee to complain to the harasser, and nobody else? According to Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court which handles appeals from New York, whether that is reasonable depends on the circumstances of the case.

Specifically, in Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., crewmember Diane Gorzynski claims her former employer, JetBlue Airways Corporation, subjected her to sexual harassment. She says her supervisor, James Celeste, sexually harassed her by making massaging gestures with his hands; saying he wanted to massage breasts; indicating he wanted to suck on a particular woman’s breasts; telling a crewmember that his wife was going to a “sex toy” party; asking another female crewmember if she had “gotten enough loving” over the weekend; announcing that Ms. Gorzynski had been a table dancer in the past; announcing that another female crewmember was a former pin-up girl; grabbing Ms. Gorzynski and other female crewmembers around the waist; attempting to tickle Ms. Gorzynski and other female crewmembers; looking at women as if he were mentally undressing them; and frequently making inappropriate sexual comments and gestures at work. The Second Circuit recognized that Mr. Celeste’s behavior could have created a sexually hostile work environment for Ms. Gorzynski.

Sexual harassment.jpgJetBlue has a formal sexual harassment policy, which is included in its employee handbook. Under that policy, if a crewmember believes she has been the victim of sexual harassment, she is required to tell her immediate supervisor, the Human Resources Department, or another member of management about it. In accordance with that policy, Ms. Gorzynski repeatedly objected to Mr. Celeste about his sexual harassment. However, she did not complain to anyone else when he continued harassing her. Ms. Gorzynski explained that she did not complain to anyone else because the other supervisor in her office was not receptive to her complaints about other problems at work, and the Human Resources Department had retaliated against another employee who complained about discrimination at work.

Initially, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed Ms. Gorzynski’s sexual harassment claim, ruling that she was unreasonable because she did not complaint about the harassment to another supervisor or JetBlue’s Human Resources Department.

However, the Second Circuit disagreed. It ruled that a jury has to decide whether Ms. Gorzynski acted reasonably under the circumstances. In doing so, it recognized “the courage it takes to complain about what are often humiliating events and the understandable fear of retaliation that exists in many sexual harassment situations.” It held that it depends on the circumstances of each individual case whether it was unreasonable for an employee not to complain to someone else if the harassment continues after her first complaint. It concluded that a jury could find that under the circumstances it was reasonable for Ms. Gorzynski not to have objected to anyone other than the harasser about the harassment.

Sexual harassment at work violates New Jersey, New York, and federal employment laws. It can be very difficult to decide whether and how to object about sexual harassment at the workplace. If you have experienced sexual harassment or another violation of your employment law rights, you should consider contacting an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your options.

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On February 8, 2011, New Jersey’s Appellate Division ruled that an employee is entitled have a jury decide whether to award punitive damages against her former employer. Prior to the appeal, a jury had awarded the plaintiff, Judith Rusak, $80,108.80 in wages she lost because she experienced sexual harassment and retaliation at work. However, the trial judge did not let the jury decide whether to award punitive damages against Ms. Rusak’s employer, Ryan Automotive.

Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant for violating the law. As the Appellate Division explained, punitive damages are available against an employer under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) only if the company’s upper management either actually participated in or was willfully indifferent to the discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, and the conduct was “especially egregious.” An employer’s actions are “especially egregious” if it engaged in an evil-minded act with a willful and wanton disregard for the employee’s legal rights.

Sexual Harassment 2.jpgApplying that law, the court in Rusak v. Ryan Automotive, LLC concluded that a jury could find the sexual harassment Ms. Rusak experienced was especially egregious. Specifically, the court ruled that a jury should decide whether Ms. Rusak is entitled to punitive damages based on sexual harassment and retaliation that included supervisors telling Ms. Rusak sexually explicit stories about executives having sex with other executives’ wives; leaving graphic pictures of female genitalia on her desk and sending copies of them to her by e-mail; sending pornography to her at work; calling her a “dumb . . . stupid blonde;” insulting and making crude comments about her; yelling and screaming at her; telling her not to come back to work; taking away her telephone and computer; removing her name from a list of employees eligible for annual awards; telling her she was going to be fired; and other similar abusive behavior.

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The Sexual Harassment
Last week, the New Jersey Appellate Division clarified what a company must prove before its anti-harassment policy can protect it from a sexual harassment claim. The case, Allen v. Adecco, involves Jessica Allen, an employee who worked for the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) through an employment firm, Adecco. According to Ms. Allen, her supervisor, Jacques Coles, sexually harassed her. For example, she says Mr. Coles made sexual comments to her, commented about her clothes, asked about her dates, told her he wanted to date her, described her lips and breasts, described how he thought she would act during a sexual encounter, described a sexual fantasy involving her, used graphic and vulgar language, touched her back, thighs and buttocks, pulled her undergarment, brushed against her, called her “sexy,” and referred to himself as her “future husband.”

Sexual Harassment 1.jpgMs. Allen’s Objections to the Harassment
Ms. Allen also says she objected to Mr. Coles’ harassment. In response, he claimed she wanted him, and liked what he was doing. When Ms. Allen told Mr. Coles she was going to report the harassment, he told her that nobody would believe her and she would lose her job if she reported him. Based on those threats, Ms. Allen did not report Mr. Coles’ sexual harassment for more than a month.

Within hours after Ms. Allan finally filed a complaint about the sexual harassment, UMDNJ transferred Mr. Coles to another position in the same building. However, Mr. Coles continued to harass her and began to retaliate. UMDNJ eventually transferred Ms. Allen to a new position in another building, and the harassment stopped.

UMDNJ’s Anti-Harassment Policy
The trial court dismissed Ms. Allen’s case, finding that because UMDNJ had an anti-harassment policy and stopped the harassment soon after Ms. Allen complained, the company was not legally responsible. However, the New Jersey Appellate Division disagreed, and instead ruled that a jury should decide whether UMDNJ’s anti-harassment policy was “effective” and “active.” Under New Jersey law, only effective and active anti-harassment policies provides a company with a complete defense to sexual harassment committed by one of its supervisors.

According to the Appellate Division’s decision, an anti-harassment is “effective” and “active” only if it:

  • Is published or provided to employees;
  • Requires anti-harassment training;
  • Is completely committed to intolerance of harassment;
  • Is effective in prohibiting harassment;
  • Includes formal and informal complaint structures;
  • Has an effective and practical grievance process;
  • Includes ways for the employer to confirm the policy and complaint procedures are working properly; and
  • Workers, supervisors, and managers are trained how to recognize and prevent unlawful harassment.

The Appellate Division concluded that a jury needed to decide whether UMDNJ’s anti-harassment policy met these requirements. As a result, it sent the case back for a trial at which a jury can decide whether UMDNJ is liable for Mr. Coles sexually harassing Ms. Allen.

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