Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment/Hostile Work Environment

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AR15The boundary lines separating what is not actionable versus what is impermissible employment discrimination have continued to shift and evolve. Regarding a strongly pro-employee ruling a California court entered in 2016 interpreting that state’s employment discrimination statute, one author wrote that the new opinion was a warning to employers:  don’t be a jerk. (The author used a word similar to jerk, but a little stronger.) In Tennessee, however, it is important to understand that the law is different here, and the mere fact, by itself, that a supervisory employee acts like a jerk or a bully or is generally extremely difficult may not necessarily be a winning case for the supervisor’s subordinate employee. An experienced Tennessee hostile work environment lawyer can help you, whether you’re an employer or employee, analyze your case and plot a smart path for you in these and other potential hostile work environment situations.

A recent decision handed down by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals highlights how this type of scenario can play out. The case centered on the conduct of a county prosecutor in rural southern Ohio. The prosecutor, allegedly motivated by a seminar he attended, decided he needed to take action to improve the level of professionalism within his office. Some of the measures he took were ones many workplaces utilize, such as the establishment of a dress code and the usage of a time-clock.

Other alleged behaviors and decisions were more…unique. Allegedly, the prosecutor entered a work area and loudly popped a large piece of bubble-wrap with the specific intention of startling and frightening the female employees. There was also the day the prosecutor allegedly appeared in the doorway of an office area holding an AR-15 rifle and called out, “Don’t worry. I’m not that mad.”

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Sexual HarassmentPublicly available employment law court rulings can often be very helpful, both to employers and to employees. Unfortunately, many court case decisions are instructive in a “what not to do” sense, for one side or the other. Working with experienced Tennessee employment law attorneys is one way to make sure you don’t fall into the “what not to do” traps that often ensnare real-life litigants. In a recent Tennessee sexual harassment case, it was the employee’s evidence related to the employer’s allegedly woefully inadequate response to sexual harassment that allowed her to take her case to trial.

Tracy was a nurse at a major food company’s facility in suburban Nashville. At first, shortly after Tracy began working at the plant, a co-worker began bringing her candy every week. After a few months, things escalated. The co-worker started asking the nurse to dinner and making kissing noises whenever he entered the nurse’s work area. The nurse asked the co-worker to stop his behavior, but he did not stop.

The nurse reported the conduct to her direct supervisor at least weekly. The supervisor told the nurse that the man was “harmless” and advised her not to report the co-worker to Human Resources. By April 2014, things had worsened to the point that the nurse, on one occasion, had to lock herself in her office after the man had shown up, asked her if she was alone, grabbed her hand, and refused to let go. The nurse again reported the conduct. The supervisor again recommended not involving Human Resources.

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harassmentThe case of gross misbehavior going on at a West Tennessee auto parts store contained some unusual facts. All of the sides agreed that the conduct of the alleged harasser, who was also the store manager, was “repulsive.” Everyone agreed “that he got what he deserved when” the employer fired him shortly after its investigation. What wasn’t clear was whether the store manager held a role within the employer’s organization with enough power such that the employer could be liable for his harassing conduct. Ultimately, the courts decided that the employer was not liable in this case because of the limited authority the store manager actually held.

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Workplace Sexual HarassmentThe hostile work environment case of one Georgia health care company employee offered a potentially novel and unique question, namely, can an employee pursue a hostile work environment case when she was not the victim of the alleged harassment and was not even present when the alleged harassment took place? In this case, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did not need to answer this question to rule in favor of the employer because the employee’s evidence fell short of the law’s requirement that the alleged harassment be both severe and pervasive.

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cell phoneA nurse anesthetist, who was the recipient of two very unwelcome text messages from a co-worker encouraging her to have “wild sex” with her husband, lost her sexual harassment case against the co-worker and her employer. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling against the nurse anesthetist because the acts of harassment she endured were either unrelated to her gender or too few to constitute the sort of severe and pervasive harassment required by Title VII.

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twiddling_thumbsWhen an employee sues his employer in a sexual harassment case, there are several key pieces that go into that case. The court will look at the harasser’s conduct, as well as the employer’s response. For an employee to win against his employer, he must not only have been harassed, but also his employer’s response must have been improper. In a recent Tennessee case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $300,000 jury verdict in favor of an employee. In that case, it was not so much an improper action taken by the employer but an improper inaction that doomed its case.

The employee who sued, Jeffry Smith, worked at Norcross, Ga.-based Rock-Tenn Services, Inc.’s facility in Murfreesboro. Smith suffered multiple acts of harassment from a co-worker, Jim Leonard. Leonard slapped Smith on the rear one day, grabbed Smith’s rear very hard a few days later, and, some time later, came up behind Smith, grabbed his hips, and began basically engaging in a simulated humping session. The cumulative effect of Leonard’s conduct was so severe that Smith began suffering anxiety problems and had to take a leave of absence from work.

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work-on-train-924824-mA 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.

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against the owner of a well-known Atlanta-area restaurant/nightclub, Taboo 2 Bar and Bistro. The agency has alleged that Sirdah Enterprises, Inc. broke the law by permitting, on an ongoing basis, sexual harassment to take place with respect to its female servers throughout the course of their careers with the company.

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Sexual harassment in the workplace is more common than people realize, but it often goes unreported because many victims do not want to risk losing their jobs if they discuss the issue with their employers. According to a report released by the Everyday Sexism Project, both men and women are experiencing workplace harassment on a routine basis. Your Atlanta sexual harassment lawyer will tell you that oftentimes, the victims are blamed for the occurrence of sexual harassment; however, more and more companies and individuals are starting to take such claims and allegations much more seriously.

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Whenever an individual is sexually harassed in the workplace, he or she might wonder about the best way to handle the situation. Sexual harassment is a problem not only for women, but for men as well. Thousands of charges related to sexual harassment are filed by both genders with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on a yearly basis. But what many victims of harassment don’t know is that there may be instances in which their employers can be held legally responsible for the harassment.

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