A Playboy’s Dream–Part 3

A Playboy’s Dream–Part 3

A Playboy's Dream–Part 3

Their investigation revealed that each manager was guilty of varying levels of improprieties.  Consequently, each was disciplined according to the severity of his actions.  Some were prosecuted, some terminated, and some merely reprimanded.  However, all the secretaries retained their jobs and were given the option to remain in the department or be transferred elsewhere.   

Thanks to her sharp instincts and persistence, Gloria led the way for thwarting a series of unspeakable management practices.  Probably the thing that amazed her the most was that several secretaries had legitimate sexual harassment cases against the company, but not one ever filed a charge.

Panel:

It is difficult to believe that this type of pervasive corruption could take place in any organization, especially for such an extended period.  In our experience, most instances of workplace sexual harassment are isolated or only involve a limited number of employees.  Nevertheless, we aren't surprised that many of the women in this case truly believed that they would lose their jobs or thought they had to participate to "get along."  Prior to the media coverage of scandalous behavior among politicians and others, many investigations of sexual harassment cases that involve young women often revealed similar responses.  These women were simply unaware of their rights.  Today, however, forward-thinking companies provide training to ensure that management not only understands the personal and financial liabilities of sexual harassment but also that employees understand their rights.

In this case Gloria demonstrated strong instincts, one of the hallmarks of an effective human resources manager.   When she discovered that the marketing department orchestrated regular weekend "sexcapades," she acted correctly by immediately informing the president.  She also handled the situation well in her subsequent dealings with the culpable males.  She neglected, however, to properly address the issues with the females and bring true closure to the case. 

Gloria should have informed those women who believed that their jobs were in jeopardy of the company's procedures for handling sexual harassment complaints.  Moreover, she should have told those women who willingly engaged in the weekend frolics that the company did not condone such behavior. Furthermore, Gloria should consider sending every remaining manager through a sexual harassment course designed for management. She should also arrange for all other employees to attend an employee-oriented sexual harassment program.

Legal:

Gloria's astonishment that no lawsuits had been filed by any of the women involved in their escapades is well taken.  This story gives new meaning to the phrase "dodging the bullet."  For those young women, including Jenny, who participated in the Saturday rendezvous out of fear for their jobs, the company–and the managers–would almost certainly be liable.  An employer will be automatically liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment (i.e., sex for the job) conducted by their supervisory or personnel.  This means that an employer will be responsible for unlawful sexual harassment by a manager or supervisor, even though the employer may not have been aware of such conduct, and even though such conduct violated company policy.

Sexual harassment suits can be extremely costly for employers (aside from unwelcome negative publicity). In addition to trial by jury, make-whole relief (reinstatement, back pay, and front pay), and attorneys' fees, victims of sexual harassment are now entitled to compensatory and punitive damages under the Civil Rights Act of 1991.  While there are "caps" on compensatory and punitive awards, they are still substantial, ranging from $50,000 for employers of 100 employees or less to $300,000 for employers of more than 500 employees.

There is no indication in this story that the company had a sexual harassment policy or had conducted training on sexual harassment for its managers and employees.  While a policy may not always stop sexual harassment, if it had existed here, it may have encouraged Jenny or one of the other victims to come forward–thus allowing the company to address the problem sooner and reducing the risk of a costly legal battle.  A sexual harassment policy should have an internal complaint procedure.  This procedure should encourage prompt reporting of sexual harassment claims and assure confidentiality to the extent possible, with employees having an option of reporting an incident of sexual harassment to someone other than his or her own supervisor if the immediate supervisor is the harasser.

Supervisors and managers should be made aware of their critical roles in effectuating the company's sexual harassment policy and in minimizing the company's exposure to liability.  Sexual harassment training should emphasize that individual managers who sexually harass others face potential personal liability.  Not suprisingly, when managers learn that sexual harassment can dip into their personal pockets, they generally pay closer attention to the issue.  In some cases, such as with sexual harassment, where an individual manager presumably is not acting for the benefit of the employer or in its behalf, courts may even preclude the employer from indemnifying the individual manager for damages assessed against him or her.  In addition to incurring individual liability for sexual harassment, the vice president who signed his approval for the hotel bills could be sued by the company for violating his duty of loyalty.

Excerpted from Sex, Laws, & Stereotypes, by N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.©

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