Second Circuit Approves Post-Judgment Injunction Due To Unique Facts Of Sexual Harassment

EEOC v. KarenKim, Inc., No. 11-3309-cv (2d Cir. Oct. 19, 2012): The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit on behalf of female employees who worked at the defendant’s Oswego, New York grocery store. During a two-week jury trial, numerous employees testified that the store’s manager routinely verbally and physically sexually harassed teenage female employees with graphic comments, innuendo, and inappropriate touching. The employees testified that they complained to the store’s owner, who had a romantic relationship with the manager, but the owner did not believe them. On one occasion, the manager pled guilty to second-degree criminal harassment. Based upon this evidence, the jury returned a verdict for the EEOC and the claimants, finding that the defendant was liable for maintaining a “sexually hostile work environment” with “malice or reckless indifference” to the rights of young female employees. The jury’s award included punitive damages of $1,250,000. Following the verdict, the district court rejected the EEOC’s request for injunctive relief. On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the district court abused its discretion because it denied injunctive relief directed at ensuring that the manager would no longer be in a position to sexually harass employees. Although in an ordinary case, terminating a lone sexual harasser may be sufficient to eliminate the “cognizable danger” that a defendant-employer will engage in recurrent violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the court concluded that “this is not an ordinary case.” The court therefore remanded the decision for reconsideration and suggested that an appropriate injunction would prohibit the defendant from employing the manager in the future and prohibit him from entering its premises. This unusual case emphasizes that failing to take adequate steps to investigate and correct sexual harassment may subject the employer to injunctions that include continued outside monitoring and oversight.

Note: This article was published in the December 2012 issue of the New York eAuthority.