According to a recent New Jersey Appellate Court decision, an employer’s policies against sexual harassment are ineffective if employees are unaware of them. On August 3rd, the New Jersey Appellate Division reinstated the hostile work environment portion of a quid pro quo, disparate treatment, and hostile work environment lawsuit filed by a former Mott’s factory temporary worker.
The plaintiff, Anita Jones, claimed that she had been inappropriately touched and subjected to lewd remarks by her coworkers. Although she complained about the harassment to a supervisor, she was told that temp workers were easily replaceable and should not complain. Eventually, Jones became a regular worker and was given an employee handbook detailing the steps that employees could take to report sexual harassment. She did not report the harassment at the time. A couple of weeks later, she resigned after one of her harassers criticized her during a meeting.
When she resigned, Jones reported the harassment to a member of her company’s Human Resources department. She claimed that she had not reported the harassment before because she was afraid that she would not get offered a full-time position. The company asked her to rescind her resignation and assured her that she would be given a new position.
After Jones filed her lawsuit, the company asserted that it could not be held responsible for the harassment because it had a mechanism for reporting sexual harassment. It also claimed that it could not be held liable for the behavior of the harassers because they were not direct supervisors of the plaintiff. Originally, the court dismissed Jones’ claims of quid pro quo sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and disparate treatment. The Appellate Court upheld the dismissal of the quid pro quo and disparate treatment parts of the lawsuit, but reinstated the hostile work environment claim.
The Appellate Court justified its decision by stressing that sexual harassment policies are ineffective if employees do not know about them. It argued that employers are responsible for notifying both permanent and temporary employees about the steps they can take to report sexual harassment.
The Court also applied the results of a February case, Aguas v. State of New Jersey, to redefine the concept of “supervisor.” According to this new definition, anybody who has control over another person’s daily activities at the job can be described as a supervisor. Under this definition, the men who harassed Jones would be termed supervisors, and Mott’s would be held liable for their actions.
Duty to report Sexual Harassment in New York City
New York City law generously protects works from sexual harassment. If you have faced sexual harassment in your workplace, do not hesitate to call Akin Law Group at 866.685.5163. Our dedicated lawyers are happy to consult with you free of charge, and can help you better understand your options going forward.