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Beware Of Costly Sexual Harassment Claims
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Beware Of Costly Sexual Harassment Claims

According to state and federal law in the U.S., it is unlawful to harass a person at work because of that person’s gender. Harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other forms of verbal or written or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

The Law

Sexual harassment falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Each state has a parallel law. Simple teasing of a person or isolated comments are not illegal. To constitute illegal sexual harassment, the offensive comments and behavior must be of such frequency and severity that a hostile work environment is created or when an adverse employment situation developed.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal body, which enforces the federal prohibition of sexual harassment in the workplace. Every state has a similar department to enforce its parallel anti-discrimination laws.

The Situation Today

According to the EEOC, in 2011, of the 11,364 complaints of sexual harassment filed, reasonable cause was found in 761. In 2001, of the 15,475 sexual harassment charges filed, reasonable cause was found in 1,746. Reasonable cause means that an EEOC investigator determined after an initial review that there are grounds to support a claim, but that further work needs to be executed.

While the statistics show a decrease in the number of cases filed and the number of cases reaching a determination of reasonable cause, sexual harassment remains a major problem for women in the workplace and their employers.

Here are three examples of sexual harassment today:

Former McDonald’s Store Owner Settles $1 million Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Missoula Mac, Inc. owns 25 McDonald's in Wisconsin. EEOC filed a class action suit against Missoula Mac arguing that male employees at their Reedsburg, Wisconsin restaurant sexually harassed female co-workers since 2006.

Court documents reveal that illegal behavior included sexual comments, kissing, and even physical contact of people’s private areas. One female employee quit because of the harassment. Two other women were fired for repeatedly filing complaints about their colleagues’ behavior.

Missoula Mac acknowledges that the “improper workplace conduct” took place but disputes the extent. It concluded that it was better to settle the case rather than spending the time and money to challenge the claims.

In addition to paying $1 million to 10 women who suffered the sexual harassment, Missoula Mac must develop a position for monitoring and resolving complaints about workplace conditions. This “monitor” will be required to proactively visit restaurants regularly to speak to employees. A toll-free hotline telephone number and address must to allow employees a safe place to file complaints must be created. Managers are also required to attend two hours of training on sexual harassment.

DiMare Ruskin Agrees to a $150,000 Settlement of EEOC Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

DiMare Ruskin is a Florida-based tomato grower. During the 2008-2009 growing season, DiMare Ruskin supervisors at one of its locations allegedly sexually harassed two female farm workers. When the two workers opposed the harassing behavior, they were fired.

The EEOC filed suit against DiMare Ruskin after initial settlement attempts failed. Facing a suit in federal court, DiMare Ruskin agreed to pay $150,000 to the original two complainants. They also are required to take additional steps to prevent and address unlawful harassment and retaliation at its farms across the country such as establishing an anti-harassment policy and developing a nationwide training program.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

Giumarra Vineyards Settles an EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit

The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Giumarra Vineyards in 2010 claiming sexual harassment of a 17 year-old female migrant worker and retaliation against other workers in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To avoid the continuation of the lawsuit, Guimarra agreed to dedicate $350,000 to implement dramatic changes in its operation. First, Guimarra will train its work force of thousands migrant farm workers by hiring an independent professional to lead training programs on sexual harassment and retaliation for existing staff, incoming new staff. There will be separate training for management and human resources staff on how to appropriately handle complaints of sexual harassment.

In addition, Giumarra agreed to revamp its complaint procedures and translate them into languages that their employees understand. The EEOC will monitor compliance of the consent decree for three years.

According to the company website, Giumarra is a family-run company that employs over 3,000 people.

Conclusion

The purpose of reporting these three settlements is to illustrate the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. From fast-food restaurants to farms to corporate offices, female employees are suffering from improper sexual advances and other forms of harassment. If you have any questions, please file a complaint with the EEOC or your state civil rights enforcement agency.


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