Sizzler USA just settled a sexual harassment lawsuit in which a former employee alleged she was the subject of sexual harassment in the form of unwelcome touching, unwelcome comments and physical threats. In addition to unwelcome comments about her body, the plaintiff, Patricia Huizache, was told that Mexican woman are “stupid and only good for sex.” (To read more about this suit, click here). According to an attorney for the EEOC this was an egregious case of harassment and there were “real problems with the investigation of the complaint and preventing it from happening.”
The Bottom Line:
This appears to be the classic case of coworker harassment. It is much easier for employers to defend themselves against claims of coworker harassment than it is when claims of harassment are lodged against supervisors and management. The key is a prompt and thorough investigation that is not only fair but gives the appearance of fairness. To achieve this the affected parties must understand the manner in which the investigation will take place. Once it has been determined that the claims made are valid, it is critical for the employer to take meaningful action that will stop the harassment.
In addition consideration must be given to protecting the reporting party from retaliation following their report of harassment. More often than not employers properly handle the report of harassment only to find they failed to protect the reporting party from retaliation once the investigation is concluded. To avoid this, I recommend that you instruct the reporting party on your policy prohibiting retaliation, provide them with a copy of your policy prohibiting retaliation and follow up with them at least twice after the investigation is concluded.