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Minimizing Exposure For Workplace Harassment And Retaliation


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This presentation is a good overview of harassment and retaliation law and provides practical guidance for minimizing employer liability associated with these issues.

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Minimizing Exposure For Workplace Harassment And Retaliation

  1. 1. Minimizing Exposure for Unlawful Workplace Harassment and Retaliation Tamsen L. Leachman Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue LLP [email_address] • 503-417-5513
  2. 2. Employer Alert! <ul><li>$6.85M verdict for 4 employees where managers placed the women in police holds, inappropriately touched them, and placed a retractible knife to their throats </li></ul><ul><li>$1.5M to female pastry chef whose boss touched her sexually and made comments to her, and who was fired after complaining </li></ul>
  3. 3. What is at Issue <ul><li>Third Party Harassment </li></ul><ul><li>Co-worker Harassment </li></ul><ul><li>Supervisor Harassment </li></ul><ul><li>Conduct based on protected status </li></ul><ul><li>Conduct that creates a negative work environment and impacts performance </li></ul><ul><li>Situations that ultimately result in retaliation or deterioration of work environment – tangible job injury </li></ul>
  4. 4. Harassment Proof Scheme … <ul><li>Harassment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Quid Pro Quo </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>This for That </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hostile Environment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Because of … </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Unwelcome </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Severe and Pervasive </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Inadequate Remedial Measures </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Identity of Harasser may be important – supervisor, customer, former paramour </li></ul></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Harassment Comes in Many Forms <ul><li>Sexual, including same sex </li></ul><ul><li>Gender </li></ul><ul><li>Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity </li></ul><ul><li>Racial </li></ul><ul><li>Religious </li></ul><ul><li>Disability </li></ul><ul><li>Pregnancy </li></ul><ul><li>Age </li></ul><ul><li>Marital Status </li></ul>
  6. 6. Where are the Cases Coming From <ul><li>35% of 2006 charges focused on race </li></ul><ul><li>Race - includes ancestry, physical characteristics, race-linked illnesses, culture, perception, association with someone of particular race, and reverse discrimination </li></ul><ul><li>Color – pigmentation, complexion, skin shade, and skin tone </li></ul>
  7. 7. Employer Alert! <ul><li>California jury awards two delivery drivers $61M in race harassment case </li></ul><ul><li>Later reduced to $12M </li></ul><ul><li>Lebanese-Americans called “Camel Jockey” and “sand nigger” by terminal manager </li></ul><ul><li>Initially claim against Roadway Express, but later against FedEx after purchase </li></ul>
  8. 8. How Bad Does it Have to Be To Create Actionable Harassment? <ul><li>Severe or pervasive considers … </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The frequency of the conduct </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Its severity (how shocking is it?) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Purely subjective sliding scale </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Each juror gets to evaluate </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or merely offensive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Whether the conduct reasonably interferes with work performance </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Severe or Pervasive … <ul><li>Offensive sexual comments, physical contact, including kissing and rubbing in a sexually suggestive way, by a manager were sufficient to alter the work environment – Olson v. Lowe’s </li></ul><ul><li>Workplace permeated with profanity, crude humor, sexual graffiti, and where co-workers grabbed plaintiff and tried to kiss and grope her was bad enough to create liability for employer – Petrosino v. Bell Atlantic </li></ul>
  10. 10. Standard Lowered - ??? <ul><li>Parker v. Atlanta Newspaper – daily verbal harassment sufficient to survive summary judgment even if no physical conduct </li></ul><ul><li>Evaluation criteria – frequency; severity; physically threatening or humiliating; unreasonably interferes with job performance </li></ul><ul><li>Verbal harassment in threatening or intimidating manner can be perceived as physically threatening or humiliating </li></ul>
  11. 11. Not Severe or Pervasive??? <ul><li>10-15 comments of a sexually suggestive nature by a co-worker over 2-month period insufficient - Bussell v. Motorola </li></ul><ul><li>Aloof supervisor who one time told female subordinate that women are only good for ***king did not create hostile environment – McKenzie v. Milwaukee Co. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Malibu Barbie” nickname insufficient – Erenberg v. Methodist Hospital </li></ul><ul><li>Dirty jokes told in employees presence, ‘hot lips” nickname, and verbal sexual advance in context of improving performance evaluation not sufficient – Morris v. Oldham Co. Fiscal Court </li></ul>
  12. 12. New Rise in ADA Harassment Claims <ul><li>$100,000 award to HIV positive physician who claimed she was subjected to a hostile work environment because of her disability/requests for accommodation – Flowers v. Southern Regional </li></ul><ul><li>No award where employee called “platehead” – Shaver v. Independent Stave </li></ul>
  13. 13. Religious Discrimination <ul><li>Obligation of reasonable accommodation and its interactive process – Balint v. Carson City </li></ul><ul><li>If relates to hours – must provide aid in switching shifts instead of just pointing to policy - EEOC v. Aldi, Inc., </li></ul><ul><li>Temporary transfer or time off questionable </li></ul><ul><li>Undue hardship – more than de minimus cost, e.g. , repeated overtime. Speculative costs or hardship insufficient. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Baker v. The Home Depot <ul><li>Employer’s failure to fully accommodate request for Sundays off can support claim </li></ul><ul><li>Employee’s request granted for one year, but new manager required employee to be “fully flexible” </li></ul><ul><li>Employee given option to work part-time or work Sunday evening so he could go to church </li></ul><ul><li>Court found that all religious limitations and objections must be considered in the accommodation process. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Reasonable Factor Other than Age <ul><li>Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (2008) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Performance, flexibility, criticality of skills, company service </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Disparate impact analysis - 30 of 31 were 40+ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Plaintiff must identify specific practice that causes disparity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Employer must prove RFOA was the reason </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Scope of Relevant Evidence Impacts Risk in Litigation <ul><li>Harassment/Discrimination may be easier to prove with “me too” evidence </li></ul><ul><li>Same Supervisor rule no longer per se - Sprint/United Management Company v. Mendelsohn (S.Ct. 2008) </li></ul><ul><li>Impact unclear, but remember past events in evaluating current risk </li></ul>
  17. 17. Where to Begin Preventing These Problems … <ul><li>Be clear about acceptable workplace conduct. Good dos and don’ts … </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If it involves more than shaking hands, don’t </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Flirting is fun, but only causes problems later </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Comments about body parts are never okay </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Off-color jokes are unacceptable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>NO relationships between supervisor and subordinate … ever! </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Reinforcing the Message <ul><li>Sexual and Workplace Harassment policies are an important tool </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Statement that conduct is unacceptable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Definition and examples </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Scope of situations covered, e.g., trips, and people covered, e.g., customers, vendors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reporting procedure and encouragement to do so </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Assurance of no retaliation and description of investigation protocol </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Commitment to enforcing consequences of behavior </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. What Are Love Contracts? <ul><li>Purpose – clarify the consensual nature of the relationship, clarify ground rules, and reaffirm the s.h. policy … just in case … </li></ul><ul><li>Potential Benefits </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Evidence of nature of relationship at one point in time </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Easier to start a dialogue later </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>*These assume that employees will disclose the relationship initially </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Don’t Forget <ul><li>Creation and distribution of a policy </li></ul><ul><li>Training about the policy </li></ul><ul><li>Holding managers and supervisor accountable for environment and handling of complaints </li></ul><ul><li>Putting in place adequate remedial measures </li></ul><ul><li>These are often the only facts employers can rely on to counterbalance the ugly bad behavior allegations … </li></ul>
  21. 21. Workplace Investigations – Preventative and Remedial <ul><li>Immediate response & prompt resolution of investigation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>EEOC position – launched immediately & completed as soon as possible </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Case law </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Investigation began on day of complaint, concluded in 2 days, and discharge in 10 </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Investigation began 1 day later and concluded in 2 weeks </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Investigation inadequate where did not occur until after agency filing </li></ul></ul></ul>
  22. 22. A Word of Caution … <ul><li>In Crawford v. Metro. Gvt . Nashville , (Jan. 26, 2009), Supreme Court interpreted ‘opposition’ activity broadly </li></ul><ul><li>Court held it protected employee who voluntarily answer questions in investigation of another’s complaint </li></ul><ul><li>Suggestion that broad reading of coverage might also apply to protected ‘participation’ activity </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>Witness Involvement in Employer Process Creates Sphere of Protection </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Still requires good faith reporting of unlawful conduct </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Pro-active attention and increased sensitivity required by employers - protected activity can arise when you are not expecting it </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Informal charges to supervisor </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Employee threats to file a charge </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Association with protected employees </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Defending self against claim of unlawful conduct </li></ul></ul>
  24. 24. Immediate Remedial Measures <ul><li>Should occur a.s.a.p. - consider ways to avoid contact </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Scheduling changes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Transferring accused </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Placing accused on administrative leave </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Giving complainant time off – preferably WITH pay </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Be sensitive to perceived adverse action by complainant </li></ul>
  25. 25. Ultimate Remedial Measures <ul><li>Preventive measures always appropriate </li></ul><ul><li>Remedial measures should … </li></ul><ul><ul><li>End current harassment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Deter future harassment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>With the accused </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>With others </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Make victim whole??? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Victim’s choice of remedies not required </li></ul></ul></ul>
  26. 26. <ul><li>Actions should be in proportion to offense </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Nature and severity of conduct </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>History of accused </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Actions should not disadvantage victim </li></ul><ul><ul><li>EEOC views this as retaliation </li></ul></ul>
  27. 27. Examples of Action Designed to Stop Conduct <ul><li>Oral or written warning </li></ul><ul><li>Transfer or reassignment </li></ul><ul><li>Demotion </li></ul><ul><li>Reduction of wages/bonus </li></ul><ul><li>Suspension </li></ul><ul><li>Discharge </li></ul><ul><li>Training/counseling </li></ul><ul><li>Monitoring of accused </li></ul>
  28. 28. Retaliation … Just When You Think You are Out of the Woods <ul><li>Retaliation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Protected Conduct – Crawford expansion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Adverse Action – Burlington Northern paradigm shift </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Constructive Discharge </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Materially vs Ultimately Adverse </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Work related vs non-work related </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Causation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>*Employer’s Legitimate Non-Retaliatory Reason </li></ul></ul>
  29. 29. Time for Review <ul><li>Ensure Retaliation Addressed in Company Policies on Harassment & Discrimination </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Include statement prohibiting retaliation and outlining discipline consequences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Give examples of prohibited conduct </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Require Reporting of Retaliation and Provide Options </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Address investigation, confidentiality and consequences </li></ul></ul>
  30. 30. Time for Review <ul><li>Train All Supervisors and Managers </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Protected activity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Materially adverse employment action </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Importance of good documentation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Require reporting / coordination with HR </li></ul></ul>
  31. 31. Time for Review <ul><li>Review Investigation Protocols </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Consider limiting the witnesses to be interviewed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Limit the number of open-ended questions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Focus on the issue(s), but pay attention to all messages </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ensure you convey appropriate retaliation message to all participants </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Consider providing copy of retaliation policy </li></ul></ul>
  32. 32. Time for Review <ul><li>Review Investigation Follow-Up Protocol </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fully evaluate with whom to share results and at what level of detail </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Refresher training for supervisor – act as if nothing has changed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Check in with all participants in investigation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Monitor for occurrence of retribution by supervisors or by co-workers </li></ul></ul>
  33. 33. Managing Your Risk Common Discipline Mistakes <ul><li>Poor Performance Evaluations </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Untimely </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Conclusory </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unlike evaluations of others </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Subjective or shows bias </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Potentially inappropriate comments </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Sick leave usage or exercise of other rights </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Failure to Document Misconduct </li></ul><ul><li>Inadequate Communication of Expectations </li></ul>
  34. 34. Managing Your Risk Destroying the Nexus <ul><li>Ensure Process Resolved Satisfactorily and Door Left Open for Retaliation Concerns </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Communicate regarding resolution </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Provide safe contact for follow up </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Check in with employees to confirm no issues </li></ul></ul>
  35. 35. Managing Your Risk Destroying the Nexus <ul><li>Review chain of command and establish oversight for discipline </li></ul><ul><li>If discipline must occur, understand your burden of proof and create your evidence accordingly </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid negative, unnecessary comments or action </li></ul>
  36. 36. <ul><li>Questions? </li></ul><ul><li>Tamsen Leachman </li></ul><ul><li>503-417-5513 </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>