Woman propositioned then transferred. Was it retaliation for gender discrimination?

Managers who ignore sexual harassment complaints because the behavior doesn’t sound all that bad or because the accused is a “nice guy” put their employers at risk.

‘I can see your underwear’

State Trooper Laura Zelinski had a problem. His name was State Trooper Richard Weinstock.

Once, Weinstock put his hand on Zelinski’s leg and propositioned her. Another time, he described sexual acts in graphic detail. One day he told her he could see her underwear. And on another occasion he told her, “If I can see down your sweater, everyone else can.”

She complained to her supervisor, Lou Altieri. Instead of doing something about it, Altieri – a friend of Weinstock’s – told Zelinski that Weinstock was a “nice guy” who didn’t mean anything by it.

Shortly after that, Zelinski was transferred to another unit – a parallel move with no change in status or pay. Nonetheless, she saw the transfer as retaliation, and she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit.

A judge agreed with Zelinski, saying the four incidents were severe and pervasive enough to create a sexually hostile work environment.

Remind managers, any time they get a gender discrimination complaint from a protected worker, they must report it to HR, which will investigate and take appropriate measures. A complaint about doesn’t imply guilt – but unless it’s handled right it could escalate into a huge problem.

Cite: Zelinski v. Pennsylvania State Police, U.S. Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit, No. 03-4025, 4/11/04.

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