Law Office of David Miklas, P.A.

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A lawsuit for retaliating against bystander (not victim) to sex harassment?

Florida business owners may wonder, “can I get sued if an employee complains about a co-worker being sexually harassed?”

Here is a recent situation that may help Florida HR directors and business owners.

The employee filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging violations of Title VII.  The EEOC conducted an investigation which revealed that prior to his termination, the employee had only received positive performance reviews, and the company never documented or informed the employee of any alleged performance deficiencies.  The EEOC concluded that the business did not fire the employee sooner because it was unable to staff his position until that time.

The EEOC issued a Letter of Determination finding reasonable cause to believe that the company violated Title VII and “invited” the company to join with the EEOC in informal methods of conciliation to remedy the discriminatory practices described in the Letter of Determination.  When the EEOC was unable to secure from the company a settlement agreement acceptable to the EEOC, it sued the company in federal court.  EEOC vs. American Queen Steamboat Company, Civil Action No. 17-cv-02669.

The EEOC issued a press release which reminded Florida companies that retaliation for opposing the sexual harassment of a co-worker violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to a $50,000 award for lost wages and other damages, the consent decree requires multiple steps to prevent future discrimination, including an injunction against further retaliation, Web-based and live anti-discrimination training, and monitoring by the EEOC.

An EEOC spokesperson stated, “[t]he EEOC is committed to protecting employees who stand up and complain when they see a co-worker being unlawfully sexually harassed,” and “2017 has been a groundbreaking year for exposing sexual harassment in the workplace. For sexual harassment to end, we need to make sure that the victims of harassment and their allies are not penalized for coming forward.”

As we reported earlier, Florida employers are reminded that recently the EEOC began a new type of sex harassment training that focuses on bystander intervention training.

If you own a Florida business or if you are in a human resources position in Florida and you have questions about harassment complaints or updating your harassment policy, you can email the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. to arrange for a consultation or you can call us at 1-772-465-5111.

You can read more of our employment law articles on our legal updates page.

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An employee complained to a company manager that another manager was continuing to sexually harass a co-worker, even though that co-worker had previously complained about this sexual harassment and the company told these employees to “try to work together.”

The employee also objected to the conduct of a high-level executive with management oversight  (and who was friends with the accused harasser) related to these sexual harassment allegations.

The employee then provided the company with a written complaint about the ongoing sexual harassment of the co-worker, the company’s failure to protect the co-worker from sexual harassment, and its handling of the initial complaint.

In this written complaint, the employee criticized the high-level executive’s conduct as “extremely unprofessional” for alerting his friend, the accused harasser, about the co-worker’s sexual harassment complaint before the Human Resources Director arrived to investigate. The employee also claimed that the high-level executive’s favoritism towards the accused harasser, had worsened the situation.

The next month, the high-level executive fired the manager who had suggested that the employee submit a written complaint.

The following month, the high-level executive confronted the complaining employee telling him how angry he was that he mentioned him in the written complaint and that the complaint had made him so annoyed that he had thrown it across the room. The high-level executive emphasized that he had the power to fire the complaining employee and he threatened his  employment.

The employee phoned his supervisor and informed him of the high-level executive’s retaliatory conduct, but the supervisor took no action to protect the employee from retaliation. Instead, the supervisor warned the employee that the high-level executive as angry about his written complaint.

Two months later the company decided to terminate the employee, and informed him, by phone, that although he had done “nothing wrong,” he was being fired.

Bystander sex harassment?

The EEOC’s lawsuit claimed that the business violated Title VII by retaliating against the employee for opposing and reporting sexual harassment.  The EEOC took the position that the company’s decision to fire the employee was motivated by and in retaliation for his protected activity (filing a complaint).

The EEOC recently announced that the company agreed to a settlement whereby the business will pay
$50,000 and furnish other relief to resolve the lawsuit charging retaliation.

The “facts” in this case are what is claimed in the court filings and press releases. Even if the employer disputed the facts, this case demonstrates how many EEOC cases involving pregnant workers are resolved.