The City of Philadelphia recently settled a sexual harassment lawsuit for $45,000. The suit was brought by Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector Debra Frazier, who claimed that she was threatened and intimidated after rejecting Deputy Commissioner William Blackburn's advances. Frazier filed complaints of Blackburn's conduct to supervisors and to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. Later, Frazier filed a formal complaint with the Police Department's Equal Employment Opportunity Unit.
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) says that harassment based on gender or of a sexual nature; or harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth or related condition constitutes sexual harassment. It is illegal for an employer to harass employees at work. California law holds employers strictly liable for sexual harassment by supervisors or agents. Employers may also be liable for harassment by co-workers even when management was not aware of the conduct, as long as there is evidence that the employer did not take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.
What are the steps to prevent sexual harassment?
California law establishes that all employers are obligated to prevent sexual harassment by:
Taking necessary steps to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring; if it occurs, the employer must fully and effectively investigate the matter
Placing a poster on sexual harassment in the workplace. A poster is made available through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)
Distributing materials on sexual harassment from the DFEH to employees to develop a workforce that is aware of sexual harassment
Implementing a formal sexual harassment prevention policy with an effective complaint and investigation procedure
Providing two hours of sexual harassment classroom education every two years to all supervisors, and to all new supervisory employees within six months of becoming a supervisor
Designing and implementing a comprehensive sexual harassment prevention program is the most practical way to eliminate sexual harassment and to limit liability if sexual harassment occurs.