How Not to Deal With Sexual Harassment Complaints


A recent EEOC lawsuit just settled for $2.3 million and it gives a good example of how NOT to handle sexual harassment complaints. The harassment was compounded by retaliation and ratcheted up with evidence tampering.

In the suit, the employee complained to the department manager that her manager was sexting her and inviting her to his house for drinks. The manager was ultimately termination allegedly for “declining performance.”

Unfortunately, the manager’s work had been consistently commended – an all-too-common situation, terminated for performance but appraisals indicate above average or excellent performance. Any jury is going to look for “the real reason” and what is there to choose from? Discrimination and retaliation!

Unfortunately, the retaliatory termination wasn’t the only problem with the company’s reaction to the harassment complaint. They compounded their problems by engaging in what the EEOC called “abusive discovery tactics,” which included, according to EEOC attorney, David Lopez:

  • Destroying relevant evidence
  • Wrongfully withholding evidence
  • Filing frivolous motions

As a reminder to employers who think harassment is fading away, the EEOC had two similar cases – one for $150,000 and another for $1M.

How Can You keep your company out of the harassment limelight? TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN!

Here are some quick statements you can use with your training:

  1. Managers should not try to figure out whether behavior is illegal.  In fact, it is not a good idea to talk in those terms – an email that discusses illegal harassment is evidence for a suiting employee’s attorney.
  2. Behavior that is “kidding” to one person may be offensive to the recipient and/or observers. Harassment isn’t mitigated by the motives or intent of the offender; what counts is the impact on the person who was offended.
  3. Some believe that sexual harassment involves touching or other manner of physical contract; however, harassment may also occur from innuendo, sexual talk, inappropriate jokes, and other offensive behavior that creates a hostile working environment.
  4. If a manager says that an employee who turns down an invitation for a date will get a poor evaluation, that is a classic “quid pro quo” or tangible employment action harassment and is never acceptable.