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Beware of Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination Lawsuits

Under the law, sexual harassment includes any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Any conduct of a sexual nature that makes an employee uncomfortable has the potential to be considered sexual harassment.

"Employers should also adopt a clear sexual harassment policy."
A myriad of situations can qualify as harassment under this broad definition, and a recent lawsuit brought by the former employee of a hip-hop magazine illustrates some of the most egregious forms of harassment. The employee was the first woman to hold the editor-in-chief position at the magazine, and brought a lawsuit claiming she was discriminated against and sexually harassed. The employee's testimony painted a workplace saturated with inappropriateness: supervisors repeatedly begged her for sex, she received threats of physical assault, and she was pressured into spending a weekend in Atlantic City with a supervisor.

When the employee complained to human resources, she was soon thereafter terminated during a heated, vulgarity-laced phone call with her superiors. The employer claimed she was terminated due to poor performance, but the jury saw differently and awarded her a $15.5 million judgment. The jury was not convinced by the employer's argument that since this was a hip-hop magazine, employees should expect such behavior in the workplace.

Employers should take solace in the fact that multi-million dollar headline verdicts like this are few and far between. A host of factors must align – including egregious facts, sympathetic plaintiffs, irreproachable witnesses, and favorable law. As demonstrated in this case, however, regardless of the type of company or its culture, employers should work hard to ensure that their workplaces are free from any form of harassment and/or discrimination.

Sensitivity training and counseling for all employees from management to the mailroom are important, and even imperative in certain situations. Employers should also adopt a clear sexual harassment policy (required for certain employers in states such as California and Connecticut), and closely monitor their workplaces for violations. Finally, employers must seriously consider and fully investigate all employee complaints of discrimination.

  • Krupin O'Brien LLC is a nationally recognized law firm specializing in employment and labor law and exclusively representing employers in the areas of labor relations, employment law, business immigration and related litigation. The firm has a particular expertise in representing restaurants and the hospitality industry, and represents companies and ownership groups of all sizes, both local and nationally. For further information contact Ana Salper, an attorney with Krupin O'Brien LLC, where she represents clients on all forms of litigation, and counsels clients on diverse employment and labor matters. Ms. Salper oversees the firm's New York office and is a member of the New York State Bar. Contact her at: 212-745-1387 or ana@krupinobrien.com.

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