A district court in Tennessee has permitted some claims in a sexual harassment suit to move forward after one male employee accused a male coworker of inappropriate behavior.
In Smith v. Rock-TENN Services, Inc., Jeffrey Smith worked for Rock-Tenn Services, Inc., a box and packaging materials manufacturer from August 2010 until the end of September 2011. Around the beginning of 2011, Smith claimed that a male coworker, James Leonard, slapped him on the rear during a shift. In accordance with the company’s sexual harassment policy, Smith first informed Leonard that he did not want Leonard touching him. A few days later, Leonard allegedly grabbed Smith “in the crack of his butt,” hard enough that his rear was irritated for two days. This time, Smith grabbed Leonard by the arm and threatened him, but he did not report either incident to a higher authority. However, Leonard was eventually placed on a performance improvement plan for “horseplay sexual harassment” after another employee reported him. Leonard was informed that any further sexual harassment allegations would be grounds for termination.
Nonetheless, in June 2011, Smith claimed that Leonard grabbed him by the hips while he was bent over a machine and thrust his genitals against him. Smith then grabbed Leonard by the throat and held him for roughly 30 seconds before releasing him. Smith then reported the incident to his supervisor, as well as to two other supervisors. One supervisor he informed of all three incidents. After an investigation was done, the supervisors concluded that Leonard should be terminated. However, the general manager, who was unaware of all three of Leonard’s actions toward Smith, disagreed and thought that the evidence was only enough to merit a three-day suspension as a final warning.