Soleil Bonnin worked as an adult dancer at a Washington D.C. strip club when she met Joseph King, a senior manager at Fannie Mae. According to Bonnin, she expressed her desire to King to leave the adult entertainment industry, so King hired Bonnin as his personal assistant at Fannie Mae.
According to Bonnin, instead of being treated as a regular employee, King, "isolated her from colleagues, took her on outings where he demanded sex, and threatened to fire her if she did not comply." Bonnin specifically charges that King would drink alcohol during lunch and then demand that she have sex with him at nearby hotels.
King would not provide Bonnin normal work; instead, he limited her assignments and badgered her when she spoke with fellow employees, according to Bonnin's allegations in her lawsuit.
Bonnin further alleges that Fannie Mae executive management knew of King's behavior. Fannie Mae fired King and claims that it is investigating the matter. Kelly Weill "Fannie Mae Paid for Trips Where Boss Sexually Abused Employee, Lawsuit Claims" thedailybeast.com (Jan. 17, 2018).
Consent is not a defense to sexual harassment claims. Neither King nor Fannie Mae can argue that Bonnin knew or should have known what she was being hired for when King offered to transition her from exotic dancer to his executive assistant position. The only defense for Fannie Mae is if it can prove that Bonnin knew what King wanted her to do as an employee and that she knowingly welcomed that relationship with King.
The success of that defense is highly unlikely, especially because Bonnin filed a restraining order against King while employed. There is no better evidence that someone did not welcome a relationship than a restraining order.
Although Bonnin alleges sexual harassment and assault as well as negligence on the behalf of Fannie Mae, there is also an important hiring lesson for employers. Albeit an extreme example, this matter should serve notice that any employer, even those with the resources of Fannie Mae, can have exposure from a person, like King, who selects applicants for sexual desires or physical attraction.
So, what can employers do to make certain that a person is hired to do a legitimate job?
- Avoid creating positions that are personal in nature unless absolutely necessary.
- Don't hire unless there is an opening.
- If there is an opening and the position is absolutely necessary, hire from an approved job description that describes in detail the essential functions and qualifications to be selected.
- Make certain applicants meet most of the essential functions and qualifications of the job before applicants are even interviewed.
- Perform due diligence on the most qualified candidates after an interview.
- Allow more than one person or human resources to weigh in on the final decision to hire.
- Come to a consensus and hire the most qualified person for the job.
What about hiring people who are unqualified?
Employers may have to hire more unqualified people as the job market becomes tighter. However, you should not hire unqualified applicants if qualified applicants exist and unless you can monitor the unqualified employee's performance closely.
The fact is that if other people were considered (and due diligence was performed as listed above), Fannie Mae would never have hired Bonnin and would not be facing a multi-million dollar suit.