The scenario: A female crew member was horrified to learn that a male coworker with whom she was having a consensual sexual relationship had circulated compromising photos and videos of her. The material was distributed via text messages, and nearly everyone at work knew about it.
Not surprisingly, the woman broke off the relationship with the man. Then she filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment with her employer.
The company conducted an investigation. Eight months later, management suspended the male staffer without pay for one year, transferred him to a different location and placed him on probation.
Legal challenge: The female staffer sued for a hostile work environment motivated by gender bias. She argued that the employer’s investigation took too long.
The employer countered that its monthslong investigation was reasonable and thorough, and the man was punished for his behavior.
The ruling: The employer won. The court ruled that the woman didn’t endure a hostile work environment based on gender. The judge said that the length of time for the employer’s investigation was reasonable, and the steps taken by managers to discipline the offender were effective.
The skinny: This case provides further evidence of the importance of making sure that investigations of inappropriate behavior are thorough. While the woman was unhappy that the investigation took too long, she probably would’ve been even unhappier with a slipshod investigation that resulted in no disciplinary action.
Key: Keep the person making the allegations in the loop. The woman in this case might have been less upset about the timing of the investigation if she’d been given more updates about what was going on.
Cite: Martin v. State of New York, U.S. Court of Appeals 2, No. 19-1479, 3/30/20.
(From the May 1, 2020, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To download the rest of the issue for free, please click here.)