Wednesday, June 24, 2009

When cookie-cutter sexual harassment training just won’t cut it

The number of sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are up 11% from last year and stand at the highest rate since 2002, according to EEOC data.

But as the statistics show, many of the cases don’t resemble the situations portrayed in most of the “cookie-cutter” sexual harassment training videos out there. Sexual harassment charges filed by men amount to 16% of total charges reported to the EEOC, up almost 5% from the late 1990s.

A recent case involving retail giant Dillard’s reveals just how important same-sex harassment training can be.

According to the EEOC, Dillard’s violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by permitting a sexually hostile work environment to exist for male employees at one of the company’s Florida locations. The charges against Dillard’s included verbal and sexual harassment of a male store associate and young dockworker by a male supervisor.

The male workers accused their supervisor of exposing himself to them, making sexual propositions, and making sexually explicit and derogatory comments. Managers continually ignored complaints made by the workers about the harasser.

After the store manager told the associate involved in the case to “get back to work” because he was being “hypersensitive” and “overreacting” to the situation, the associate quit.

It wasn’t until another employee reported similar offenses made by the same supervisor that the store manager decided to take action. The store manager notified the district office and fired the supervisor.

The EEOC filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Dillard’s in response to the two employees’ complaints. Dillard’s argued that it was not liable because the company had an anti-harassment policy and had fired the accused supervisor. The company also claimed that the supervisor’s actions did not create a hostile work environment.

The court rejected Dillard's argument and found that Dillard's anti-harassment policy could not absolve it of liability if the policy hadn’t been effectively implemented. The store manager’s failure to report Reed’s two claims was a violation of the company’s own reporting procedures.

The court noted that the store manager held one of three positions detailed in the anti-harassment policy’s reporting procedure. When he twice failed to escalate the complaints to the district office, he violated Dillard’s policy. (Business Management Daily)

Use this case as a reminder that even though harassment may not look exactly like what you saw in the training video, it’s still harassment. Male-on-female, male-on-male, female-on-female or female-on-male, sexual harassment is sexual harassment and should be treated as such.

1 comment:

Jim aka Evil Skippy said...

Excellent suggestion. At the same time, training so include the fact that sexual harassment is just one type. All of the protected categories are covered. I've investigated many cases where a supervisor did not take action because the matter involved something other than sex.

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