Every New York employer needs to take allegations of sexual harassment seriously. It is not enough to simply have a boilerplate policy that parrots the requirements of federal and state law. An employer must properly train its managers to handle sexual harassment complaints and take appropriate remedial action. Ultimately, if a manager fails to act or indicates that they support the harassing behavior, the employer can be held liable.
Three Ex-Employees Awarded Individual Damages
On June 15, 2018, a state appeals court upheld the New York State Division of Human Rights' (NYSDHR) decision to fine an upstate dental clinic $60,000 after it failed to properly address multiple allegations of sexual harassment. The court also required the clinic to pay damages to three former employees who were the victims of said harassment. The NYSDHR is the state administrative agency charged with investigating sexual harassment and employment discrimination complaints.
Just over a year ago, on June 8, 2017, NYSDHR issued its final order in the present case. All three victims worked for the clinic, where they said they were subject to “unwanted sexual harassment” by a male co-worker. Among the allegations:
- Employee #1 said the co-worker “subjected her to sexual instances of offensive sexual commentary” in the workplace, and on one occasion “grabbed her breasts” without her consent.
- Employee #2 also cited “offensive sexual commentary” and unwanted touching of her breasts, as well as multiple instances where the male co-worker “intimidated” her “by asking her on dates.”
- Employee #3 said the male co-worker asked her to cheat on her spouse with him and “regularly touched her body,” including one time when “he touched her near her genitalia.”
Although the clinic maintained a sexual harassment policy, and the employees reported the co-workers misconduct, the NYSDHR said management failed to take any corrective action. To the contrary, a female manager received multiple complaints from all three employees but tried to dismiss the employees' concerns. For instance, in response to one report of offensive sexual commentary, the manager said the male co-worker was “just joking around.” In another instance, the same manager said the co-worker “probably didn't mean anything” when he hugged one of the employees without her consent.
More troubling, the clinic fired two of the employees shortly after they filed their sexual harassment complaints, and the third employee was effectively forced to resign due to the co-worker's misconduct. The NYSDHR concluded this was illegal retaliation under New York law. In its final order, the Division ordered the clinic to pay over $150,000 in compensatory damages and lost wages to the three victims, in addition to the $65,000 civil fine mentioned above.
The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, rejected the clinic's appeal of the NYSDHR's findings and order, noting that “substantial evidence” supported each of the agency's determinations.
Standing Up Against Sexual Harassment in New York
You should always inform management any time you are subject to sexual harassment. You should also contact a qualified New York employment law attorney who can assist you in the event your employers fails to live up to its legal responsibilities. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, to speak with a member of our legal team today.