Archive for the ‘Sexual Harassment’ Category

Don’t Make Fun of the Guy Wearing Pastel Shirts

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard other guys give a male wearing a pastel shirt a hard time about his “feminine” color choice, but employers might be more apt to snuff out such joking after a recent decision by the Eastern District of California where the court held that, among other things, that calling a male worker’s pastel shirts “girly” was evidence of sex stereotyping.  Although this decision was rendered in California where the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit has already recognized harassment and discrimination rooted in sex stereotyping as an actionable Title VII claim, the court’s message should cause all employers to worry about whether they are doing enough to create a work environment free of sex-based harassment. 

Indeed, in the matter of Felix v. Cal. Dep’t of Developmental Servs., two special investigators with California’s Department of Developmental Services alleged that they were subjected to years of coworkers’ derogatory name calling and pranks.  The plaintiffs sued under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.  The alleged harassment consisted of, among other things: (1) coworkers joking that one of the plaintiffs dressed in “girly” clothes because he wore pink, lavender, and soft blue colored shirts; (2) coworkers making references to one of the plaintiffs and a male coworker having nipple rings and piercings on their penises that were chained together; and (3)   coworkers sending one of the plaintiffs yellow balloons with a card claiming that he had a secret admirer, which was intended to imply that he was a homosexual because an openly gay male co-worker’s favorite color was yellow.    

The court found that calling a male employee’s clothes “girly” and implying that he had a sexual relationship with male co-workers demonstrated plausible sex-based harassment under Title VII and the FEHA.  This decision should cause employers to question whether they are doing enough to eliminate potential harassment claims from the workplace.  The attorneys at Harmon & Davies are here to assist employers with such matters. 

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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Sexual Harassment in the Deboning Department

Mistakes happen to the best of us, for example, occasionally things slip through the cracks at companies when someone goes on vacation or HR gets swamped with new hires.  Yet when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment complaints employers need to be ever vigilant.  If they aren’t, the consequences of their mistakes may haunt them.

For instance, in the case of EEOC v. Farmer’s Pride, Inc., a Pennsylvania poultry processing plant came under the investigation of the EEOC after one of its male workers alleged that he was sexually harassed by his female supervisor while working in the deboning (no pun intended) department at the company’s Fredericksburg facility and his supervisor reached down his pants and touched his genitals while he was working.  The worker alleged that the female supervisor subjected several other male and female co-workers to similar harassment and that two male supervisors also acted inappropriately toward female employees.

As part of its investigation, the EEOC asked for the company to produce facility-wide information regarding whether other workers had complained of sexual harassment.  Although the company produced some information in response to an EEOC subpoena, it failed to fully comply.  The company contended that the EEOC’s investigation of the worker’s charge should be limited to the supervisors he named and the breast deboning department.  The EEOC then sued the company in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, seeking an order to show cause why its subpoena should not be enforced.

Thereafter, the court agreed ordered the company to comply with the subpoena finding that the EEOC has broad investigative authority and that the EEOC had established: (1) a legitimate purpose; (2) relevancy; (3) that the information was not already in its possession; and (4) the subpoena was not “unreasonably broad or burdensome.”  Indeed, the court found that sexual harassment complaints from elsewhere in the facility would provide context in determining whether the company’s response to sexual harassment complaints by its employees was adequate.  In other words, harassment complaints by employees elsewhere in the company’s facility would be relevant to whether the company allowed a sexually hostile environment to exist in its workplace.

Although whether the company engaged in any wrongdoing remains to be determined, the ruling on the EEOC’s right to subpoena documents regarding sexual harassment complaints on a facility-wide basis should serve as a stark reminder to employers that they need to take sexual harassment complaints seriously and have the proper policies in place for addressing such complaints.

The attorneys are Harmon & Davies are here to assist employers with all their Labor and Employment Law needs, including the handling of sexual harassment complaints and the crafting of sexual harassment policies, and protocol for dealing with sexual harassment complaints and investigations.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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