Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Court Holds Doctor's 64 "Sexts" NOT Sexual Harassment

Eric B. Meyer highlights a case that highlights the importance of heading to human resources or a supervisor first and allowing a reasonable amount of time for a remedy before running to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") about sexual harassment.

A doctor at a chiropractic practice began sending his receptionist text messages at all hours of the day and night, which included things like:

•"suck me beautiful,"
•"I'm so @#$%^,"
•"U want to fuck on my desk,"
•"I want to fuck u do u want to? Let's make it saucy," and
•"Come and suck it and I will feel better."

After the 64th "sext," the receptionist finally lodged a complaint and forwarded the text messages to the Clinic Administrator. Soon after the receptionist quit and headed over to the EEOC to lodge a sexual harassment complaint. The EEOC found that the evidence suggested that the doctor had sexually harassed her, but opted not to prosecute the case on her behalf and issued a right to sue letter. The receptionist filed suit in federal court but the court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment! Why?:

The court pointed out that an employee must give the employer sufficient time to remedy the situation following receipt of an employee complaint of unlawful harassment. Here, because the receptionist quit immediately after she complained of sexual harassment, the court found that there was insufficient time for her employer to have corrected the situation. So, even though the court believed that the doctor had created a hostile work environment that was both severe and pervasive, the court was persuaded that the clinic did have a procedure to remedy unlawful harassment in the workplace, but was deprived of the chance to do so. Therefore, the court dismissed the receptionist's claims.

In order to rationalize the court's decision, it's easier to think of it this way: if you are sexually harassed by a coworker or supervisor and never complain, how can you then hold the employer accountable for that worker's behavior if they never knew about it or had a reasonable opportunity to remedy the situation short of legal redress? Understandably it's not always easy for employees to go to HR or a supervisor about these types of incidents but failure to do so will render a subsequent lawsuit meaningless.

The case is Kurtts v. Chiropractic Strategies Group, Inc.

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