One Connecticut manufacturer found that out last month when the state Supreme Court ruled the company must compensate a former employee more than $90,000 for failing to halt coworkersÂ’ ongoing taunts and hostility regarding the employeeÂ’s sexual orientation.
Upholding a prior jury decision, the court ordered Birken Manufacturing Co. to pay Luis Patino $94,500 in damages for failing to take Â“reasonable stepsÂ” to stop harassment. Patino said he had been subjected to homophobic verbal abuse and claimed the situation created a hostile work environment.
The ruling shows that ConnecticutÂ’s legal system is serious about enforcing workplace sexual harassment laws, and companies that do not proactively comply risk valium no prescription subjected to legal action, says Quinnipiac University School of Law faculty member Emanuel Psarakis.
Â“YouÂ’ve got to have a clear and unambiguous policy to specify that you forbid harassment,Â” says Psarakis, a distinguished practitioner in residence at the law school, who specializes in employment law. Â“You should have a policy and have a procedure for people making complaints. If you find harassment, you must engage in prompt, effective remedial action.Â”
Psarakis says company procedures and subsequent action might vary depending on a businessÂ’ size and particular situation. For example, while human resources departments routinely field complaints, having an outside entity investigate a grievance might be appropriate in some cases.
Â“You must respect the privacy of the individual Â— not only the individual making the complaint, but the individual(s) accused,Â” notes Psarakis. Â“They all have rights.Â”
Â“Wise employers in this day and age have a policy in place on the bulletin board so people can see it,Â” he adds. Â“They have it in employee manuals.Â”
Laws against sexual harassment are not new; indeed, some have been on the books for as long as four decades, says Psarakis. The fact that this case involved harassment because of sexual orientation does not place it outside the lawÂ’s purview, he adds.
In a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the case Oncale vs. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc., the court recognized that any action of a sexual nature creating a hostile work environment is subject to legal action. That includes, states the court decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, Â“sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment.Â”
Founded in 1943, Birken Manufacturing Co. here headquartered in Bloomfield. Its principal products are aerospace jet engine components. Patino began working there as a machinist in 1977. He said that in 1991 coworkers began harassing him with pejorative terms meant to insult homosexuals.
Patino said the harassment began to affect him physically to the point where he became noticeably shaken and had trouble sleeping. The quality of his work also tramadol no prescription affected, he said. He claimed that although he complained to supervisors and to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities about the harassment, it persisted. PatinoÂ’s employment with Birken ended in 2004.
Â“WhatÂ’s placed before a jury is the intensity of the harassment, if it goes way beyond ordinary socializing,Â” explains Psarakis. Â“The next question placed before a jury is frequency Â— how often does it happen?Â”
When a situation gets out of hand, Â“If itÂ’s conduct the employer knows about, the employer becomes liable,Â” says Psarakis.
Once an employer is aware of alleged sexual harassment, Â“YouÂ’ve got to take action thatÂ’s appropriate,Â” Psarakis says. That could be reassuring the alleged victim, written warnings to alleged offenders, training of supervisors, or other means of addressing the problem. Psarakis adds that appropriate action Â“does not mean a transfer for the complainant,Â” which could be viewed as an attempt to conveniently get rid of the problem rather than confront it head-on.
To help avoid an accusation of sexual-harassment culpability, says Psarakis, Â“An employer should be able to show it has a system for processing complaints and acts on that system.Â”
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