Sexual Harassment Is Gender Blind: Steps For Preventing Retaliation After A Harassment Claim

Written exclusively for ChubbWorks

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing Shelley's Septic Tank, Inc. in Florida for sexual harassment and retaliation after the owner allegedly repeatedly harassed a male employee.

The owner, who is also male, allegedly made sexually charged comments and engaged in unwelcome physical contact with the employee on many occasions. The employee claims that he objected to the harassment repeatedly. He finally reported it to the local sheriff.

The plaintiff alleges the owner terminated the employee when the owner found out about the report, four days after the employee notified the sheriff's office of the harassment.

The EEOC is suing for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It seeks back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages for the employee, and injunctive relief. "EEOC Sues Shelley's Septic Tank, Inc. for Same Sex Sexual Harassment and Retaliation" eeoc.gov (Jul. 21, 2020).

 

Commentary and Checklist

Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment. Men can harass women and other men, and women can harass men and other women.

State in your policy that sexual harassment is strictly prohibited, no matter the sex of the victim or harasser. Uphold your policy equally regardless of gender. If you fail to stop harassment against a male victim or harassment perpetrated by a female harasser, you could be liable for sex discrimination as well as sexual harassment. All of your policies must be gender-neutral, including those related to sexual harassment.

You must respond to any complaint of sexual harassment by investigating and keeping the employee safe from retaliation, which can lead to separate liability. 

Here are some tips to help prevent charges of retaliation:

  • Include an anti-retaliation provision in your equal employment policy and other policies prohibiting wrongdoing.
  • Provide training for managers on retaliation and the rights of employees who have made claims of wrongdoing.
  • Make certain that any employee who makes a good faith report of wrongdoing is protected from retaliation for making the report.
  • Consider involving outside counsel when establishing an incident reporting system and making decisions regarding discipline.
  • Encourage managers and supervisors to consult with human resources before taking an adverse employment action against any employee.
  • Take all complaints of retaliation seriously and respond quickly.
  • Document carefully all efforts to prevent retaliation and discrimination, including all investigations undertaken.
  • Consistently discipline managers who retaliate against employees.
  • Evaluate closely any decision that disciplines or terminates an employee who has made a legal claim, testified, or witnessed wrongdoing, or who is related to a complainant.
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