“Creepy” Conduct By Co-Worker May Be Grounds For Sexual Harassment Claim

A recent case out of Alabama reviewed the situation where a co-worker’s “creepy” actions created such a difficult situation that a jury could consider it a “hostile work environment.” In Hollis v. Town of Mount Vernon, a female dispatcher complained that another part-time dispatcher – William Cannon – wouldn’t leave her alone and made her feel uncomfortable.

What constitutes sexual harassment is always easy to define. It is not a single instance of name-calling, a request for a date, or a leering look. Rather, in order to prove sexual harassment, you must show that you have been subjected to unwelcome conduct that creates a hostile environment based on your sex that is sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of your employment.

What does that mean? That’s a good question. The courts are constantly struggling to define what sexual harassment is and what it is not, and sometimes the results can be quite confusing. What is clear, though, is that, whether you’re a man or a woman, if you are subjected to a steady stream of unwelcome and offensive conduct that is based on your sex, you complain about the harassment to your employer, but your employer does nothing about it, you probably have a strong claim of sexual harassment. If you have questions about sexual harassment or believe that you have suffered sexual harassment at work, it is important to seek the advice of a dedicated Atlanta sexual harassment attorney right away.

Here the problems began after the female dispatcher confronted Cannon about his “peeping” on another woman. The female dispatcher also complained to the acting police chief about the “peeping ” incidents. The police chief responded only by saying [T]hat man is crazy. I don’t know what to say about that man. You all better watch him.”
Cannon then began making advances toward the dispatcher. When she told Cannon she was married, he said, “I needed to hear that because I done fell in love with somebody like you.” He also sent her numerous e-mails and text messages declaring his love for her. Cannon also reportedly “hung around the dispatch area wearing only ‘bitty shorts’ with no underwear underneath.”

The dispatcher followed the Police Department’s written sexual harassment policy and complained to the acting police chief, who told her to report the behavior at the town council. However, when the dispatcher stood up to complain the acting police chief grabbed her shirt and pulled her down and said, “[W]e’ll handle this in the morning. Let’s not do that and embarrass the town.”

When the dispatcher showed up the next morning and Cannon was still working, she resigned.

The court determined that the dispatcher could advance her hostile work environment claim against the town, explaining “if no tangible employment action has occurred, then the conduct violates Title VII only if it was so severe or pervasive as to alter the terms and conditions of employment.” Here the court described “Cannon as a persistent pest who would not take no for an answer. … He was, in a word, creepy.”

Additionally, because the dispatcher’s employer was aware of the situation and failed to take adequate steps to remedy the problem, the woman could maintain her sexual harassment claim against the town.

For more information or if you believe you have suffered sexual harassment at work, please contact the experienced Georgia sexual harassment law firm of Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.