The scenario: A woman was forced to work with a male partner who sexually harassed her. The man once sent her a text message asking for “sexy pics.” When she refused, he called her a “stingy girl.”
Another time, the man approached her and said, “Let me get in you.” The woman complained to her bosses, and the coworker was transferred.
But that didn’t end the woman’s problems. The reassigned male worker had been a drinking buddy with many of the other employees, and they blamed the woman for forcing his reassignment.
As soon as he learned of the transfer, one male worker approached the woman and asked, “Why the f-ck did you get him kicked out of our department?” Then she got the cold shoulder from mostly everyone else, with one colleague stating, “Don’t talk to her; she’ll accuse you of sexual harassment.”
Eventually, the woman filed a formal complaint of a hostile workplace, but her bosses failed to investigate her claim in a timely manner. Later, she was transferred to a different department.
Legal challenge: The woman sued for a hostile workplace based on gender. She said she endured severe and pervasive hostility and was transferred because she complained about it.
The ruling: The employer lost. The court said the woman’s isolation and the boorish behavior of her coworkers amounted to a hostile workplace, and the employer was liable because it failed to investigate her complaints.
The skinny: When it comes to responding to a charge of a hostile work environment, time isn’t on your side. You need to move quickly to report the complaint to HR, investigate the allegations and take action as needed.
Cite: Salazar v. Cook County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. District Court, N.D. Illinois, No. 19-C-8057, 3/24/22.
(From the May 13, 2022, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)