Take a look at this outrageous case where the 6th Circuit US Court of Appeals upheld a former employee’s hostile work environment claim against his former employer.
Jeffrey Smith worked as a support technician for Rock-Tenn Services, Inc. for nearly one year. During this time, Smith and several other male employees experienced same-sex sexual harassment at the hands of Jim Leonard, another employee. Leonard’s harassment of Smith escalated from a pinch on the buttocks to Leonard grinding his pelvis on Smith from behind.
Despite the procedures listed in the company’s sexual harassment policy, Rock-Tenn failed to take any substantive action to discipline Leonard. As a result of the continued harassment and Rock-Tenn’s inaction, Smith ultimately quit his position. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress as a result of harassment-induced anxiety. Smith sued Rock-Tenn under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. During the trial, Rock-Tenn argued that Leonard’s conduct was “horseplay” and therefore, did not rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. The court disagreed with Rock-Tenn and ruled in Smith’s favor on the hostile work environment claim.
On appeal, the court upheld the lower court’s ruling on the hostile work environment claim. The court reasoned that pinching and slapping someone on the buttocks or grinding one’s pelvis into another’s behind goes far beyond horseplay. Rock-Tenn was liable because it did not separate the two men, suspend Leonard pending an investigation, or initiate its investigation in a timely manner.
Understanding the laws that govern the employer-employee relationship is critical. It is of equal importance for employers to not only have an iron clad employee handbook and accompanying investigation procedures but to actually follow them vigorously and without delay!! This is a very important issue that employers must understand and act on. Questions? Concerns? Contact C&G today!!
Read the opinion on this case by clicking here !
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