Company May Be Held Responsible For Co-Worker Harassment

Many workplace discrimination cases involve the situation where a supervisor harasses or discriminates against an employee. However, what happens where the harasser is a co-worker?

A recent employment discrimination case – Velazquez-Perez v. Developers Diversified Realty Corp. – evaluated whether a man was wrongfully terminated based on his rejection of the human resources manager’s sexual advances.

In Velazquez-Perez, a shopping center management company terminated a general manager based on “performance deficiencies” in his record. However, these deficiencies were placed in his record by his “jilted” co-worker, who was also the director of human resources. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit determined that based on the facts alleged, a jury could find that the company was negligent.

Significantly, the court found that the Faragher/Ellerth negligence standard that applies to co-worker sexual harassment also applies to “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment includes to those situations where an employee is required to agree to sexual favors in order to maintain their job. This marks one of the first case in which a federal appeals court has applied the Faragher/Ellerth negligence test in a quid pro quo harassment context.

Specifically, the First Circuit court explained that, “an employer can be held liable where a co-worker makes statements maligning the employee for discriminatory reasons with the intent to cause the employee’s firing, the co-worker’s discrimination proximately causes the employee to be fired, and the employer acts negligently by permitting the co-worker’s discriminatory acts to achieve the desired effect, even though it knows or reasonably should know of the discriminatory motivation.”

As such, such ruling may expand the types of bias that may be considered discriminatory.

For more information, or if you have been subjected to discriminatory or harassing conduct at work, we urge you to contact the experienced Georgia employment discrimination attorneys at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP immediately to discuss your situation, and determine your next steps.