Financial Consequences Of Ignoring Sexual Harassment And Retaliation For Government Employers

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Government

A Los Angeles police officer, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation, prevailed in her lawsuit against her employer.

The woman alleged she routinely experienced harassment from a superior officer, including sexual or degrading comments, leering looks at her body, and "other sexual advances." She states his conduct led to "extreme discomfort, humiliation, and disgust."

She complained to the commanding officer about the man's behavior, and did her best to avoid contact with him. She claims the department did nothing to stop the harassing behavior. The superior officer began retaliating against her, including assigning other officers to conduct surveillance of her movements.

The jury in the case awarded the woman three million dollars in damages. The city attorney's office may still appeal the decision. Kate Mather "Jury awards $3 million to LAPD officer who alleged sexual harassment and retaliation" www.latimes.com (Apr. 5, 2018).


Commentary and Checklist

Failing to address harassment promptly and thoroughly can lead to increased harassment, retaliation, and costly litigation. Sexual harassment by supervisors and managers is particularly risky for employers because the supervisors and managers are deemed to be acting on behalf of the employer.

Sexual harassment training and prevention should include a discussion of behaviors that are the precursors to harassment claims. Stopping these behaviors can stop the development of sexual harassment claims.

These behaviors include boundary violations, both verbal and physical. For example, one unwelcome sexual comment is a boundary violation. Multiple boundary violations can escalate into sexual harassment. Repeated sexual comments over time are considered pervasive and can form the basis of a successful sexual harassment claim.

Government employers may not be able to prevent all sexual harassment, but here are some steps they can take to reduce the risk of escalating misconduct and the resulting litigation risk:
 

  • Encourage employees to report wrongdoing, including all forms of discrimination.
  • Encourage employees to speak up about boundary violations.
  • Offer multiple methods of reporting wrongdoing and allow employees to report anonymously to a neutral third party like a hot line.
  • Take every report seriously.
  • Act quickly and decisively to investigate if you hear about or suspect that harassment is occurring.
  • Be sure to consistently follow established procedures for investigating complaints of harassment.
  • Take purposeful remedial action when harassment is found to have occurred.
  • Provide the victim with instructions on what is retaliation, how to report retaliation, and to whom to report retaliation without fear.
  • Follow up with employees to make certain that harassment has not resumed, and the victim has not suffered retaliation.
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