Keep Supervisors Out of Harassment Policy Reporting Procedures

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Oftentimes, it seems like the requirements of the law conflict with long held workplace beliefs, and in some cases common sense. One staple of workplace dogma is the notion that employees should always bring issues to supervisors first, so that issues can be addressed, and hopefully resolved, at the lowest possible level. According to the law, however, when it comes to discriminatory harassment, supervisors should be left out of the loop.

A recent case, Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., illustrates this point. In JetBlue, the Company had a policy that allowed employees to bring complaints to their immediate supervisor, Human Resources, or any member of management. The plaintiff, a former employee at the time she filed her suit under Title VII, alleged that her former supervisor had created a hostile work environment by, among other things, making sexual comments, grabbing her and other women, and tickling women. While she was employed, the Plaintiff only complained about this alleged harassment to the supervisor.

The Company argued that reporting the harassment only to the supervisor, the same person engaging in the alleged misconduct was not reasonable, and therefore, the Company was entitled to rely on the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense to discriminatory harassment claims. The Faragher/Ellerth defense is a defense against liability that is available to employers in certain circumstances if two conditions are met. First, the employer must take reasonable measures to prevent and quickly correct any harassing conduct; and second, the employee must unreasonably fail to take advantage of the preventative or corrective measures available. The trial court agreed with the Company that the former employee's failure to report the alleged harassment to another point of contact was unreasonable, and dismissed her harassment claim.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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