Did their ‘buddy system’ condone sexual harassment?
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Did their ‘buddy system’ condone sexual harassment?

Operations manager Daniel Burns sat at a conference table across from George Maynard, a field service technician, and shook his head sadly.

“George, George, George,” he said. “You should know better than to talk to a female co-worker like this.” Daniel gestured toward a sheaf of typewritten sheets on the table in front of him.

“You mean the joking around that I do with Julie out at the front desk?” George replied. “You know I don’t mean any harm by it.”

Several complaints
“Julie certainly doesn’t see it the way you do,” Daniel said. “She says you regularly referred to her, ahem, physical assets, and proposed dates she told you she wasn’t interested in. And she complained to Ed Rice and Frank Davis several times, according to this report I had them make when I finally heard what was going on.”

“If you ask me, she’s being way oversensitive,” George said defensively. “Ed and Frank are my on-site supervisors, and when they both warned me, I shut up.”

“Not for long, according to Julie,” Daniel said. “You’ve been pals with Ed and Frank for years, and they should have done more to stop you – and keep you stopped. As it is, we’ll be lucky not to get sued over this. You’ve done a lot of damage, and I have to fire you.”

Despite George’s firing, Julie sued for sexual harassment and negligent supervision. Did she win?

The decision
Yes, Julie won an important victory when an appeals court said a jury should decide if she suffered from a sexually hostile work environment.

The court was swayed by evidence that George went beyond “joking” to patently offensive comments.

But even more important was the evidence that Julie had gone to the on-site supervisors but that their friendship with George made them slow and ineffective in dealing with his bad behavior. The resulting delay in stopping that behavior — which was finally achieved when George was fired — dealt a body blow to the company’s legal case.

Lessons learned:

  • Supervisors need to act promptly to investigate and take appropriate action on allegations of sexual harassment.
  • Don’t let friendship keep you from doing what’s right.

Cite: Curran v. AMI Fireplace Co., Inc., No. 04-1362, 10th Cir.

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