Carmen Jean-Baptiste is a 43 year old woman who worked as a lifeguard at the Takoma Aquatic Center. Soon after starting the job her supervisor began to ask her out and whether she “had a man.” Ms. Jean-Baptiste rebuked these advances but, as happens in so many of these cases, the unwelcome conduct only became more severe. The supervisor then made references to her genitalia and told her that he “wanted some of that.” Ms. Jean-Baptiste reported the supervisor’s conduct to six (6) other supervisors and no action was taken. She then made a written complaint and was terminated shortly after making the written complaint.
The jury awarded her $3.5 Million because it was appalled by the lack of action on the part of her supervisors. According to the jury foreperson, “They ignored, stalled and delayed any action on her complaints.”
The failure to take a complaint of harassment or discrimination seriously will result in a high verdict every time. Most jurors have received harassment and discrimination training and will not tolerate excuses for a failure to take action. They expect management to respond once a complaint is made. Managers and line supervisors should receive regular training on necessity of reporting every complaint of harassment or discrimination and how to respond. Prompt action will not only provide your company with valuable defenses but it will also confirm to the victim that you take these matters seriously. This in turn may dissuade the employee from pursuing legal action.
Any termination of employment while a harassment or discrimination complaint is pending should be scrutinized at upper levels of management and, preferably with legal counsel. Even if the harassment or discrimination alleged is not confirmed, the decision to terminate while the complaint is pending can and, most likely will, be deemed to be retaliatory in nature. My experience has been that EEOC investigators will closely review the timing of a termination no matter how solid the basis for termination. Retaliation claims continue to be one of the hottest claims in employment litigation with average verdicts in the vicinity of $200,000 plus legal fees. Make sure your company does not fall into this trap.
Till next time,