Recently, a jury released a verdict awarding $499,000 to three employees who were negatively impacted by sexual harassment and retaliation at EmCare, a company that provides physician services. The company’s former Executive Assistant claimed that the division CEO and several other managers constantly subjected her to inappropriate and derogatory sexual comments. Although she reported the sexual harassment to the company’s Human Resources Department, no action was taken to stop the supervisors’ behavior. After the HR department failed to act, the Executive Assistant filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC first attempted to arrive at a pre-litigation settlement with the company; when that failed, it filed a lawsuit in federal court. As a result of the proceedings, the Executive Assistant was awarded $250,000 in damages.
The same CEO was found guilty of a separate incident of sexual harassment. On “Bring Your Child to Work Day,” he made an inappropriate comment to an employee’s then-15-year-old daughter. Both the employee and a colleague complained to the company’s Human Resource Department. The HR department not only neglected to act, but also fired the two employees within an hour of one another six weeks later. They reported the situation to the EEOC, which sued the company on the basis of sexual harassment and retaliation. The former employees were awarded $82,000 and $167,000, respectively.
The Supreme Court has found that employers are liable for unlawful harassment by supervisors (Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth). Since a division CEO and other managers at EmCare committed the harassment, the company was held vicariously liable for their actions. The HR department’s indifferent or retaliatory response to complaints of harassment further indicated the employer’s complicity in the abuse. According to the EEOC, an employer who receives a complaint of harassment must “conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation” of the situation to ensure that the harassment ends. If the company neglects to respond in such a manner, it may be violating the law.
Widespread Problems: Sexual Harassment and Retaliation
Although sexual harassment and retaliation are illegal, they remain some of the most prevalent forms of discrimination today. According to the EEOC, 29.5% of all employment discrimination claims filed last year involved sexual discrimination, and 41.1% alleged some form of retaliation.
If you have experienced a sexually hostile work environment and fear retaliation, know that city, state, and federal laws protect your rights. Once you have filed a complaint, any action taken by your employer will be highly scrutinized. You will continue to be protected by the law even if an investigation determines that the alleged harasser’s actions played no role in creating a hostile work environment.
Timeliness: Act Now
Timely action plays a large role in the investigation of sexual harassment and retaliation. In New York, you must file an administrative complaint with the EEOC within 300 days for your claim to be considered. You can also file with the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) or the New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR) within one year of the discriminatory act. You do not have to file separately with the agencies, as there is an option to “cross-file” the complaint with all three of them.
Do not hesitate to take action if you have faced sexual harassment or retaliation. Act now – contact an experienced lawyer at Akin Law Group to discuss your options.