Category Archives: Sexual Harassment

Extreme Sexual Harassment of Philadelphia Police Detective Proceeds to Trial

Sexual harassment at the workplace in Pennsylvania takes many forms and in some circumstances the conduct at issue can be shocking. When an employee reports sexual harassment, the employer fails to take conduct a proper investigation and fails to take remedial action to stop egregious sexual harassment, employees may be able to recover substantial damages for emotional distress. In Vandergrift v. City of Philadelphia E. D. Pa. no. 16-cv-2999 (January 11, 2017), the employee, a female Philadelphia police detective, filed a lawsuit for gender discrimination, a sexually hostile work environment, and retaliation under Pennsylvania, federal and Philadelphia law.

To establish a sexually hostile work environment in Pennsylvania an employee must show: (1) she suffered intentional discrimination because of her sex; (2) the employee suffered severe or pervasive discrimination; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected her; (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable employee in similar circumstances; and (5) the existence of respondent superior liability (employer liability). To determine whether an environment is severe or pervasive, courts consider the totality of the circumstances, including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.  Pervasive use of derogatory and insulting terms relating to women serve as evidence of a hostile environment. If supervisors create the hostile environment, an employer is strictly liable unless there is no tangible employment action taken against the employee and the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any sexually harassing behavior and the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities.

In Vandergrift, the court’s opinion outlines graphic sexual misconduct and harassment at the workplace. The employee, a career Philadelphia police officer, became a detective after 7 years of service. She worked in an environment allegedly riddled with sexual harassment that included not only sex-based comments but also alleged sexual assault by a Chief Inspector. After complaining about the harassment, she was transferred to another squad and thereafter she was charged with misconduct.

The female detective testified that in 2007, the Chief Inspector called her on the phone on at least three occasions and made sexual comments including he would love to bend her over and his most favorite part of a woman’s body and the part of the body which turned him on most was the part between her hips to her thighs. There was evidence of egregious physical misconduct as the Chief Inspector called the detective into his office and said, he wanted to know how wet she was, unzipped her pants, stuck his hand down her pants and underwear, and inserted his finger into her and then engaged in other remarks. Other evidence included the employee’s testimony that not a week went by without demeaning, inappropriate, barbaric sex-based comments and gawking stares on a constant basis. When the employee complained about how the stares made her uncomfortable, she was advised she should take the stares as a compliment. Rumors were also spread around the workplace that she engaged in sexual relationships with coworkers; she was subject to constant comments about how good she looked, and she was exposed to numerous comments about officers’ penises.  In addition, a second female officer alleged that in one incident the same Chief Inspector started kissing her hard, touched her breasts, and put his hands on the outside of her pants toward her genitals and digitally penetrated her. An internal complaint was filed about that incident, the City impounded the Chief Inspector’s city-issued vehicle, conducted a forensic examination, and found seminal stains but the investigation resulted in a finding of “not sustained” and the Chief Inspector never received any discipline. After making a formal complaint the Plaintiff employee was charged with misconduct for sending a Facebook message to four male colleagues in her squad which included a picture of a baby whose facial expression reminded her of another Detective and included quotes with inappropriate language.

The Plaintiff offered expert testimony that the City’s sexual harassment complaint procedures and investigative practices failed to satisfy a number of workplace investigation standards by improperly applying a criminal law standard to some of the complaints; failing to investigate all the allegations and numerous other deficiencies.

In Vandergrift, the court addressed an issue that frequently arises in sexual harassment cases, the admissibility of incidents that go far back in time, given the time filing restrictions under applicable law (Pennsylvania law: employee must file a discrimination complaint within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination; federal law: 300 days (EEOC Charge), two years (§1983 claim). In seeking to dismiss the employee’s claims, the City of Philadelphia argued that many of the facts forming the basis of the sexually hostile work environment claims occurred years prior to the charge and should be excluded because they were isolated or sporadic and not sufficiently linked to constitute one unlawful employment practice.

The continuing violations doctrine is an exception that extends the admissible incidents beyond the time filing requirements and provides that a sexually hostile work environment claim may be composed of a series of separate acts that collectively constitute one unlawful employment practice so long as (1) all acts which constitute the claim are part of the same unlawful employment practice; and (2) at least one act falls within the applicable limitations period. In Vandergrift, the Court concluded that the employee would be able to admit evidence that went back many years as there was sufficient evidence of a persistent, ongoing pattern of harassment which included the 2007 sexual assault and evidence that not a week went by without demeaning, inappropriate, barbaric sex-based comments, and gawking stares on a constant basis. The court also found a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the City properly responded to the harassment allegations and whether it exercised reasonable care to correct the alleged harassment.

Retaliation claims concern conduct to which an employee is subjected after reporting sexual harassment. To state a prima facie case of retaliation an employee must establish: (1) she engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer engaged in conduct constituting an adverse action either contemporaneous with or after the protected activity; and (3) a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action. Then the burden of production of evidence shifts to the employer to present a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for having taken the adverse action. Thereafter, the employee must prove that the employer’s proffered explanation was false, and that retaliation was the real reason for the adverse employment action.

In Vandergrift, the employee referenced four possible materially adverse actions: 1) supervisors labeled her as untrustworthy by telling her coworkers she filed an EEO complaint; 2) male colleagues spread rumors about her having a sexual relationship with a lieutenant; 3) the City reassigned her to another division where work is extremely hectic and busy; and 4) the City charged her with misconduct following the investigation. The court found that each of these could be adverse actions.

A third cause of action at issue in Vandergrift was a §1983 claim. A municipality is liable under §1983 when an alleged constitutional transgression implements or executes a policy, regulation, or decision officially adopted by the governing body or informally adopted by custom. The court found that the evidence established that there was sufficient evidence that the City of Philadelphia had a well-settled custom of sexual harassment within the Philadelphia Police Department as the employee’s coworkers and supervisors directed sex-based conduct toward her and other female employees throughout her employment and sexual allegations against high level managers were “swept under the rug” which equated to an unconstitutional custom of treating female employees in the Police Department less favorably than male employees. Thus, the court denied the Motion for Summary Judgment permitting all of the employee’s claims to proceed to a jury trial.

Andrew Abramson is an experienced Pennsylvania employment law attorney who represents employees who are the victims of sexual harassment and sexually hostile work environments in Philadelphia and all its surrounding suburbs. For more information on sexual harassment see http://www.job-discrimination.com/sexual-harassment

Leave a comment

Filed under Hostile Work Environment, Montgomery County Employment Discrimination, Philadelphia Employment Law Attorney, Sex / Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

Employee Terminated After Sexual Relationship with a Company Owner on Employer Sponsored Trip Has Viable Sex Discrimination & Hostile Work Environment Claims

In order to motivate sales representatives, in addition to commissions, some employers offer other types of incentives, including paid vacations. When employers reward employees with vacations in which company ownership and management also participate, social interaction outside the workplace may create the potential for significant liability and damages. A recent Pennsylvania federal court decision that denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment shows that it is possible for sex discrimination and sexually hostile work environment claims to arise in such situations.

In Getter v. IA-Works, Inc., E. D. Pa. no. 16-953 (December 19, 2016, Beetlestone, J.), a female sale representative was rewarded with an employer sponsored sailing trip in the Mediterranean Sea. The trip included traveling in sail boats with overnight bedroom accommodations. The Plaintiff employee, a sales representative for a manufacturer of products for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industries, worked remotely from her home in Pennsylvania. Prior to the trip the employee consistently received positive work performance evaluations. Shortly after returning from the trip, the employee was terminated and she filed litigation in federal court in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, alleging that the termination of her employment was discrimination based on her sex; and that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment.

Participants in the sailing included three owners of the employer, the President (father) and two sons, who are also owners of the employer; as well as the father’s romantic partner, the Managing Director who served as the Plaintiff employee’s supervisor. While some of the details were disputed, the Plaintiff employee and one of the sons engaged in a consensual sexual encounter during the trip and the President and Managing Director found about the sexual relationship. On the final day of the trip, the Plaintiff employee apologized to the President for “having sex on a business trip,” but denied making a broader apology about the relationship. The President said, “How can a woman like you, a professional businesswoman, let something like this happen. How can you spread your legs after the second day, after the third day or whenever it happened? I mean if this happened after three months or – what kind of sign is this?” The President then gave the employee an ultimatum, quit working for the company to pursue a relationship with his son or break things off with the son and continue in her sales position. The Plaintiff employee and the son did not see each other after the trip but stayed in touch by texting each other. Three weeks after the trip the Plaintiff employee was fired.

To establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination an employee must show that the employee was a member of a protected class; (2) was qualified for the job, (3) the employee suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) members of the opposite sex were treated more favorably, or that an adverse employment action occurred under circumstances that could give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination. The most straightforward method for demonstrating an inference of discrimination is to show that similarly situated employees who were not in a protected class were treated more favorably (i.e. a man was treated differently than a women). However, if it is not possible to use a specific comparator an employee may provide other evidence to establish a causal nexus between sex and the termination of employment. Once a prima facie case is established, the employer must offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination. Thereafter, the burden shifts back to the employee to offer some evidence, direct or circumstantial, from which a factfinder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reason; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s action.

In Getter, the court held that the President’s statement that Plaintiff employee’s behavior was inappropriate for a “businesswoman” suggests that he viewed female sexual activity as more problematic from an employer’s perspective than similar behavior on the part of a male employee. In addition, the court held that the evidence suggested that the President harbored “traditional stereotypes regarding the relationship between the advancement of women in the workplace and their sexual behavior.” Thus, the court held that a jury could reasonably conclude that the President’s reaction to the employee’s sexual relationship provides evidence that the termination of employment was based on sex.

The court then considered the employer’s proffered reason for the termination, which included reference to the “inappropriate” relationship with the son, continuing the relationship after vowing to end it, and failing to follow-up on sales duties after the trip. The court found that pretext existed as the proffered reason itself is vague and imprecise. Further, initially the Managing Director was enthusiastic and then perhaps neutral in her attitude toward the relationship and the Managing Director cancelled the only scheduled sales call after the trip. Pretext was also found because the Plaintiff had been advised that the relationship would not impact her employment status. Thus, the court found that the inconsistencies, contradictions, and weaknesses in the proffered reason for termination were sufficient to permit a factfinder to disbelieve the employer’s reason and make a reasonable inference that sex discrimination instead motivated the employer’s termination.

As to the hostile work environment claim, the Plaintiff employee contended that the son’s initial proposition of sex, the President’s comments to her on the final day of the trip and several other events, created a sexually hostile work environment. To prevail on a hostile work environment claim arising from sexual harassment, an employee must show that: 1) she suffered intentional discrimination because of her sex; 2) the discrimination was severe or pervasive; 3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff; 4) the discrimination would detrimentally a reasonable person in the employee situation and respond superior (employer liability) exits. A hostile work environment claim can be supported by indirect evidence as the intent to discriminate based on sex in cases involving sexual propositions, innuendo, pornographic materials, or sexual derogatory language is implicit. When a hostile work environment claim is based on alleged harassment by a supervisor, an employer’s liability is established if the harassment culminates in a tangible employment action. (i.e. termination of employment). When the alleged harasser is not a supervisor, the employer is liable only if it was negligent in controlling working conditions that led to the hostile work environment.

In Getter, the court found that the President’s conversation with the Plaintiff on the final day of the trip and the son’s (a part owner of the company) initial sexual advances which the Plaintiff initially rejected before the sexual was eventually consensual, could lead to a jury reasonably concluding that there was discrimination because of sex. The court also found that viewing the overall scenario experienced by the Plaintiff employee on the a 12 day sailing trip less than six months into her employment with a family owned company, a jury could reasonably conclude that the employee was subjected to sexual harassment sufficiently severe enough to alter her conditions of employment as within the first days of that trip, Plaintiff was propositioned for sex by a part-owner of the company (who she had never previously met), and the trip concluded with her being berated for accepting that proposition by his father, which represents an intermingling of sex-based discrimination and employment conditions; and that taken in the context of 12 day company sponsored trip in which Plaintiff had little contact with the outside world, a jury could reasonably conclude that this environment, was sufficiently severe as to constitute a change in the conditions of Plaintiff’s employment. The court also found that the conduct would detrimentally affect a reasonable similarly situated employee for the same reason; and that there was evidence that the employee was severely impacted with great anxiety about the entire situation and how it might impact her future. Lastly, as the alleged harassment culminated in the termination of employment, the employer could be liable.

Andrew Abramson is a Pennsylvania employment law attorney who represents employees who are the victims of sexual harassment and sexually hostile work environments. Abramson Employment Law represents clients in federal and state court in Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. For more information on sexual harassment see http://www.job-discrimination.com/sexual-harassment.html.

Leave a comment

Filed under Employment DIscrimination, Sex / Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

Husband Proceeds with Sex Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Against Employer Based on Wife’s Actions

Many employers have policies that restrict two members of the same family, such as a husband and wife, from working together in order to avoid nepotism, a conflict of interest and other issues that could allow a family related dispute to cause an issue at the workplace. Other employers permit two family members to work at the employer if they are in a different department, or they do not supervise each other. A recent Pennsylvania federal court decision in Reiser v. Concordia Lutheran Health, W. D. Pa. no. 16-959 (December 8, 2016, Bissoon, J.) demonstrates that employers who do not have these types of workplace restrictions may be exposed to liability under laws which protect retaliatory action against employees, such as sexual harassment.

In Reiser, the husband was an employee who worked as a Corporate Director of Rehabilitation at a senior and healthcare services provider with several locations. The employee’s wife, the daughter of the Chief Executive Officer, was employed by the same employer as a manager. When the marital relationship ended, bad feelings erupted, causing substantial problems at the workplace.

The wife confronted her husband in his office and asked him to renew their relationship before their divorce was final; when he refused, the wife stated that she would make his life “a living hell.” The wife then engaged in a series of harassing actions at work, including sending text messages using vulgar terms; telling other employees that the husband was an inadequate lover and a poor father; requiring the husband to use a computer program at work to track his whereabouts and the time that he spent using his mobile phone, while no other salaried, management level employee was required to do the same; falsely alleging that the husband was repeatedly staring at her and not working; using the performance evaluation process to accuse the husband of poor work performance, even though the work performance allegations conflicted with the performance data provided by the other facility managers; and reporting the husband to the police for a violating a protection from abuse order and not advising the police that the husband was an employee required to work at the designated location that day, with the intent of causing difficulty at the workplace as it would be nearly impossible for him to perform his duties and comply with the restrictions. The husband complained to human resources about the wife’s conduct but the employer took no action to address the situation and have the wife cease her actions.

In Reiser, the husband filed litigation against the employer claiming that the employer subjected him to a hostile work environment because of his sex. The employer filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the employee’s hostile work environment claim fails because the actions at issue were not motivated by sex, but rather were the result of a family law dispute.

In order to establish a prima facie of a sexually hostile work environment based on gender, an employee must show that the employee (1) suffered intentional discrimination because of sex; (2) the discrimination was severe or pervasive; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the employee; and (iv) the discrimination would negatively affect a reasonable person in the employer’s position. For the harassment to be actionable, the workplace must be permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the employee’s employment and create an abusive working environment.

In Reiser, the court denied the Motion to Dismiss and found that the husband alleged sufficient facts to support a sexually hostile work environment claim against the employer by showing that the wife’s actions were sufficiently severe and pervasive to have altered the terms and conditions of his employment, as the wife used her position as a management level employee and daughter of the employer’s Chief Executive Officer to harass the husband because of his refusal to renew their intimate relationship. As such, the court found that the husband sufficiently alleged that he was negatively impacted by the alleged harassment in the form of anxiety and depression and that the actions taken against him would negatively affect a reasonable person in the employee’s position.

Andrew Abramson is an experienced Pennsylvania employment law attorney who represents employees who have been subjected to sexual harassment and hostile work environments. Abramson Employment Law represents clients in Philadelphia, Montgomery County and surrounding areas. For more information on sexual harassment and retaliation see http://www.job-discrimination.com/sexual-harassment.html.

Leave a comment

Filed under Employment DIscrimination, Hostile Work Environment, Sex / Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment

Employer May be Liable for Sexual Harassment by Coworkers Who are not Supervisors

While an employer is not automatically liable for sexual harassment at the workplace when a coworker engages in sexual harassment, where the employer has notice of the sexual harassment and fails to take action to stop the harassment, the employer can be found liable. Employers are also liable for retaliation when they take action against employees for reporting sexual harassment.

In Rosh v. The Gold Standard Café at Penn, Inc., E. D. Pa no. 16-1676 (December 19, 2016, Surrick, J.), the employee, a restaurant prep cook alleged that she was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions. A co-worker grabbed her in the crotch area, made attempts to touch the employee’s breasts, consistently stared at her breasts, and intentionally touched the employee; and another co-worker attempted to touch employee and also made multiple sexually inappropriate comments.The employee told the coworkers to stop however, the conduct continued. The employee reported the sexual harassment to the two co-owner/managers who advised they would speak to the coworkers but the sexual harassment continued. Thereafter, the employee sent an email to the managers detailing the sexual harassment and also followed up with a letter. Thereafter, an owner/manager stopped speaking to the employee, reduced her work hours and told the employee to try to stop the harassment on her own. Shortly thereafter, the employee resigned because the employer refused to address her reports of sexual harassment and instead retaliated against her. The employee filed causes of action for a sexually hostile work environment, constructive discharge of employment and retaliation for reporting the harassment and the employer filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint.

In order for an employee to establish a sexually hostile work environment claim, an employee must prove that: (1) she suffered intentional discrimination because of her sex; (2) the discrimination was severe or pervasive; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected her; (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same sex in that position; and (5) the employer is subject to liability under the theory of respondeat superior. In considering whether the work environment was hostile, courts must consider the totality of the circumstances, including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.

When the harasser and victim are of the opposite sex, there is a reasonable inference that the harasser is acting because of the victim’s sex. With regard to meeting the severe or pervasive standard, simple teasing, offhand comments and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not typically amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of employment. If management-level employees have actual or constructive knowledge about the existence of a sexually hostile environment and fail to take prompt and adequate remedial action, then an employer will be held directly liable for an employee’s sexual harassment. Once an employer has knowledge of the sexual harassment, it must take prompt and adequate actions reasonably calculated to prevent further harassment.

In Rosh, the court found that the employee had sufficiently plead sexual harassment as the grabbing of a female body parts and sexually inappropriate comments demonstrate that the harassment was because she was female; and the conduct was severe, and does not constitute simple teasing, as any reasonable person would find the actions hostile and abusive. Further, the respondeat superior (employer liability) standard was met because the employee informed the co-owners of the ongoing sexual harassment on at least four separate occasions and other there than speaking with the coworkers, the employer did not take any additional steps to remedy the situation; and instead stopped speaking to the employee and told her to fix the situation on her own.

A constructive discharge occurs when an employee resigns because of unendurable working conditions. An employee must show that the employer’s actions were serious enough to change the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment and make continuing employment with the employer so unpleasant or intolerable that a reasonable person would resign. An employee does not have to show that the employer specifically intended to force the employee to quit, only that the employer knowingly permitted the unpleasant or intolerable discrimination. In Rosh, the court found that the employee demonstrated that her work environment was sufficiently unpleasant and intolerable so that a reasonable person would resign as she was repeatedly harassed and grabbed, and that she was afraid while at work; and the employer did nothing to solve the problem.

Both Title VII (the federal law) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prevent employers from retaliating against employees for reporting instances of sexual harassment. To state a retaliation claim, an employee must establish that: (1) the employee engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer took an adverse employment action against the employee; and (3) there was a causal connection between the employee’s participation in the protected activity and the adverse employment action. An employee must prove causation either through (1) an unusually suggestive temporal proximity between the protected activity and the allegedly retaliatory action, or (2) a pattern of antagonism coupled with timing to establish a causal link. Temporal proximity exists if an employee alleges a retaliatory action that occurred within a short time after the employee’s last protected activity.

In Rosh, the court found that the employee reasonably believed that her employer was required to take steps to prevent the sexual harassment and the hostile work environment, the employee reported the conduct at issue and she also stated that she would report the sexual harassment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) if the sexual harassment did not stop. The court held that the employee had a reasonable basis to believe that the employer was violating its duties under the law. Further, the court found that after reporting the ongoing sexual harassment, management stopped speaking to the employee and reduced the employee’s scheduled work hours; actions that would dissuade any reasonable worker from reporting a charge of sexual harassment. As the retaliatory events occurred within five weeks from the time that the employee wrote a letter to management stating that if the employer did not take action in response to the sexual harassment the employee would report the employer to the PHRC; and after she complained again about the ongoing sexual harassment, the court found the temporal proximity requirement was satisfied.

Abramson of Employment Law represents Pennsylvania employees subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation by their employers. For more information on sexual harassment and retaliation see http://www.job-discrimination.com/sexual-harassment.html.

Leave a comment

Filed under Employment DIscrimination, Hostile Work Environment, Retaliation, Sexual Harassment

Female Pennsylvania Manufacturing Employee’s Sexual Harassment, Retaliation & Sex Discrimination Claims Proceed to Trial

Female employees who work in male dominated manufacturing production environments may confront unique issues at the workplace. In Vollmar v. SPS Technologies, LLC E. D. Pa. no. 15-cv-2087 (December 2, 2016, Pratter J.), the court denied a motion for summary judgment, ruling that a female Pennsylvania employee can proceed to trial with her sex discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment claims against her current employer. The employee, who has worked for her employer for 27 years in a manufacturing plant where men comprise over 90% of the workforce, alleged that she was repeatedly exposed to sexual harassment at the workplace where there were ever-present sexual overtones of materials.

In Vollmar, the employee’s evidence included sexually oriented material at the workplace including a sign on a refrigerator that included phrases such as “My sexual preference is . . . often” and “I am not a bitch. I’ve just been in a very, very bad mood . . . for the past 30 years”; photographs of women, one with the word “PIG” written across it; a small box containing four small plastic or candy breasts, where the lid read “Bet you can’t eat just one”; and a Penthouse pornographic magazine. The employee also alleged that coworkers and managers regularly directed sexist comments toward her, including calling her a “bitch” several times a week; she had been told that “It’s just like a woman to do that”; she was regularly told that she did not know what she was talking about because she was a woman; and evidence that a coworker had a habit of staring at her during work hours.

Ironically, the female employee was being investigating by Human Resources for a code of conduct violation regarding a relationship with a male coworker. At that time, she complained about the untoward comments made to her and disparate treatment. The employee testified that
that Human Resources representatives acknowledged that bringing the toy breasts or a pornographic magazine into the workplace would violate SPS’s Sexual Harassment policies. Following the investigation, the female employee received a written warning for a violation of the Code and returned to work after a 10-day suspension and the male coworker was terminated.

To establish what the law terms a prima facie case of a sexually hostile work environment, an employee must show: (1) the employee suffered intentional discrimination because of sex; (2) the discrimination was pervasive and regular; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the employee; (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person in that position; and (5) the existence of respondent superior (employer) liability.

To determine whether an environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive, courts look to a number of factors, including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether the conduct at issue is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance. Workplace conduct may be severe, pervasive, or both, as a single incident of severe harassment in the workplace may contaminate the work place to such a high degree that it will be considered hostile. Where the harassment is not severe, a collection of incidents of harassment must occur either in concert or with regularity. The use of derogatory and insulting terms relating to women at the and the posting of pornographic pictures in common areas and in personal work spaces may serve as evidence of a hostile environment.

In Vollmar, the court found that considering the frequency and variety of the types of gender-based and sexual language, material, and conduct a jury could determine that the harassment was severe or pervasive.

It is important to keep in mind that even where there is sexual harassment, in some instances the employer is not automatically liable for the conduct. Employer liability may depend on whether the sexual harasser is the employee’s coworker or a manager / supervisor. Unlike nonsupervisory harassment, employers can be liable for harassment by supervisors with authority even if the employer did not have notice of the harassment. In circumstances where the sexual harassment is not by a manager or supervisor, an employee must show that management level employees had actual or constructive knowledge of the sexual harassment and the employer failed to take prompt and appropriate remedial action such as failing to train, discipline or terminate employment upon receiving notice of the sexual harassment.

The foundation of a retaliation claim is that the employee reported conduct that is protected by the law and the employer took action against the employee for reporting the conduct. In evaluating retaliation claims in Pennsylvania, federal courts apply the McDonnell Douglas three-part burden-shifting framework which requires that an employee must first establish a prima facie case, showing that the employee engaged in protected activity; the employer took an adverse employment action against the employee; and there was a causal connection between the employee’s participation in the protected activity and the adverse employment action. Once the employee meets this burden, the employer must offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Then the employee must show pretext by pointing to some evidence from which a jury could reasonably either disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reason; or believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s action.

To make out a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff must also show evidence that establishes a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse action. In Vollmar the employee argued that the record established a causal link between the adverse action and her complaint as the employee complained about certain conduct, as well as other sexual harassment, as late as seven days before she was suspended. The court held that the written warning constitutes an adverse action and that a reasonable jury could find that such action constitutes retaliation.

Andrew Abramson of Employment Law represent Pennsylvania employees who have been subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation by their employers. For more information on sexual harassment and retaliation see http://www.job-discrimination.com/sexual-harassment.html.

Leave a comment

Filed under Retaliation, Sex / Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

Gay Male Proceeds with Constructive Discharge Claim Based on Sexually Hostile Work Environment

Title VII, the federal discrimination law that protects employment discrimination in Pennsylvania based on race, national origin, religion and sex does not explicitly provide protection on the basis of sexual orientation. Nevertheless, federal courts have found that the law can be interpreted to protect gay employees under certain circumstances. In EEOC v. Scott Medical Center (W. D Pa. November 4, 2016) (Bisson, J.), the court held that Title VII protects a Pennsylvania employee who is subject to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as the law protects “discrimination because sex.”

In Scott Medical Center, a gay male Pennsylvania employee worked in a telemarketing position. The employee alleged that he was subject to discriminatory behavior by the employer’s telemarking manager and that he was constructively discharged by the employer, due to an allegedly sexually hostile work environment perpetrated by the employer’s telemarking manager. The employee alleged that the employer manager’s discriminatory behavior subjected him to a continuing course of unwelcome and offensive harassment because of his sex and that the harassment was of sufficient severity and/or pervasiveness to create a hostile work environment because of the employee’s sex. In effect, the male employee was targeted because he did not conform to what the manager believed was acceptable or expected behavior for a male because of his association with members of the same sex, rather than the opposite sex, and the harassment created a work environment that was both subjectively and objectively hostile and intolerable because of sex.

The workplace behavior at issue included routine unwelcome and offensive comments by the manager, including regularly calling the employee fag, faggot and queer; and making statements such as “f-ing” queer can’t do your job. These harassing comments were being made at least three to four times a week. Additionally, upon learning that the employee was gay and had a male partner, the employee’s manager made highly offensive statements to the employee about the employee’s relationship such as saying, I always wondered how you fags have sex, I don’t understand how you f-ing fags have sex and who’s the butch and who is the bitch? The male employee complained about the manager’s conduct directly to the President/Chief Executive Officer of the employer, who shrugged it off and took no action at all to stop the harassment, which continued. The employer’s failure to engage in prompt and effective action in response to the ongoing harassment resulted in the male employee’s constructive discharge of employment when he quit.

Ironically, the situation involving the gay male employee first came to the EEOC’s attention as part of an investigation of charges of discrimination brought by five of the same manager’s former female co-workers, who alleged they had been subjected to discrimination because of sex based on sexual harassment and unwanted touching so frequently and severely that it created a hostile and offensive work environment and resulted in adverse employment decisions.

In Scott Medical Center, the court noted that the Supreme Court has consistently applied a broad interpretation of the “because of sex” language in Title VII and in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 82 (1998), the Supreme Court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII. The court noted that “There is no more obvious form of sex stereotyping than making a determination that a person should conform to heterosexuality” and the court endorsed the EEOC’s statement that discriminating against a person because of the sex of that person’s romantic partner necessarily involves stereotypes about ‘proper’ roles in sexual relationships – that men are and should only be sexually attracted to women, not men.” The court also noted that the Supreme Court’s recent opinion legalizing gay marriage demonstrates a growing recognition of the illegality of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and noted that “someone can be subjected to a barrage of insults, humiliation, hostility and/or changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, based upon nothing more than the aggressor’s view of what it means to be a man or a woman, is exactly the evil Title VII was designed to eradicate. Thus, the Court concluded that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a subset of sexual stereotyping and thus covered by Title VII’s prohibitions on discrimination “because of sex.”

Andrew Abramson and Abramson Employment Law represent Pennsylvania employees who are subject to discrimination and sexual harassment at the workplace. For more information see our website at http://www.job-discrimination.com/

Leave a comment

Filed under Employment DIscrimination, Employment Law, Sex / Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Employer May Be Liable for Stalking & Harassment at Work – Negligent Hiring & Supervision Claim Proceeds

When an employee sustains physical or emotional harm caused by a coworker, legal issues can arise concerning an employer’s liability for the conduct of a coworker. In Brantley v., American Airlines, E. D. PA. no. 16-3540 (Pratter, J.) (November 21, 2016), the court held that when an employer has notice of certain past conduct by a coworker, an employer may be found liable for negligent hiring or negligent supervision.

In Brantley, the employee, an airport customer service agent, filed a Complaint alleging that the employer was legally responsible for misconduct of a coworker who was hired with a criminal record that included charges of stalking and harassing a woman. The employee filed claims against the employer alleging negligent hiring and supervision; and assault and battery on the legal theory of respondent superior (employer is responsible for the actions of an employee that it supervises). The employer filed a Motion to Dismiss all claims.

The employee alleged that the coworker sexually assaulted another employee in the airport employee parking lot but was not terminated or disciplined. Not knowing about the prior incident or record, the employee invited the coworker to her home where he sexually assaulted her.  Thereafter, the employee contacted the police and informed the employer’s Human Resources department about the incident. The coworker was criminally charged for assault and the employee obtained a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA), prohibiting the coworker from having any interaction with her at work and the employee gave a copy of the Order to the employer. Thereafter, the coworker changed his shift to be assigned to employee’s terminal at the airport for a shift partially overlapping employee ’s shift.  Then the coworker sexually assaulted another employee and shortly thereafter, the coworker followed the employee, approached her from behind as she applied lipstick in a common area for employees, stared at her, and whistled at her, despite having “no legitimate reason” to be in the area. According to the employee, these incidents caused her fear and emotional distress, she reported the last incident to airport police, who told her that the employer had never forwarded the PFA order or criminal docket to corporate security, in violation of the employer’s policy. Shortly thereafter, the coworker’s employment was terminated.

To state a claim for negligent supervision or negligent hiring under Pennsylvania law, an employee must allege that the employer failed to exercise ordinary care to prevent intentional harm to a third-party which is committed on the employer’s premises by an employee acting outside the scope of his employment and is reasonably foreseeable. In Brantley, the Court found that there were sufficient facts plead for the employee to bring a negligent supervision / hiring claim because while certain harm took place at the employee’s home, there was also evidence that the coworker engaged in stalking behavior during work hours. In so doing, the court rejected the employer’s argument that the coworker’s mere presence in the same terminal was not cognizable “harm,” as the existence of the PFA order and the coworker’s whistling, staring, and refusal to leave the employee alone is more than mere presence.

The employer also argued that the employee did not allege that the coworker acted outside the scope of his employment. However, the court pointed to Pennsylvania cases allowing negligent supervision claims to survive a motion to dismiss as an alternative claim to direct/respondeat superior liability and held that because, at the pleading stage, some leeway is permitted, the Court would not dismiss the negligent supervision claim simply because the employee also attempted to plead a respondeat superior claim. The court also noted that the employee reported the coworker’s bad behavior to the employer, presented it with her PFA order, and evidence that the coworker assaulted and/or stalked other female employees which placed the employer on notice of the coworker’s behavior, yet the employer continued to allow the coworker to work a period until after two more incidents when it then terminated the coworker.

In Brantley, the court dismissed the assault and battery claim wihtout prejudice. In so doing, the court held that while an employer may be held responsible for the acts of employees which cause injury to a third-party under a respondeat superior theory if the acts were committed during and within the scope of employment, apart from the fact that the actions occurred at work, the employee did not affirmatively plead any facts that would support that the coworker’s actions were of a kind and nature that he was employed to perform or for a purpose that served the employer’s interest.

Abramson Employment Law, represents employees who suffer damage caused by an employer’s negligent hiring and supervision. For more information concerning Abramson Employment Law and employment discrimination claims see job-discrimination.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Employment Law, Sexual Harassment