Security Response Does Not Create Hostile Work Environment

In a recent sexual harassment case, an administrative assistant asserted that her company’s response to her complaints of sexual harassment under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act created a hostile work environment. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania disagreed.

In Sheer v. Motorola Inc., E.D. Pa., No. 09-209, an administrative assistant became friendly with an engineer at Motorola, exchanging social emails and gifts. The relationship started to decline and the engineer made increasingly sexual and threatening comments. After the administrative assistant complained to Motorola, the engineer was investigated, formally punished and had his duties diminished.
The administrative assistant claimed she was treated differently by co-workers after the complaint, and she subsequently lost her job a year later after a reduction in force. She then filed a lawsuit alleging violations of Title VII as a result of a hostile work environment and retaliation.

Here, Motorola’s response to the assistant’s claim was in question. After the administrative assistant complained, Motorola assembled a security team to investigate, told her to work from home, and provided her with safety advice.
The court concluded that rather than being discriminatory, these actions show that company took the woman’s complaint seriously and invested significant time and resources to resolving the matter quickly and effectively. The court also stated that if they found the company’s actions to assist the woman created a “hostile work environment” employers would be on a ‘razor’s edge’ for fear of liability for investigating too thoroughly or not investigating at all.

The court also determined that the fact that her job was eliminated nearly one year after the woman complained was not sufficient to show retaliation.

If you believe you have been subject to sexual harassment, the first thing to do is seek legal advice. Often the employer will have a policy that requires you to report the harassment to someone in authority. If you fail to do so, you risk losing your right to pursue a sexual harassment claim if the conduct persists. Here, the company responded and took actions to investigate the complaints of harassment. Often, that’s not the case. Many times when an employee complains of harassment, the employer does nothing. In situations where a company fails to respond to a complaint, you have the right to file a sexual harassment charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that investigates all claims of employment discrimination. The EEOC will then investigate the charge and require your employer to investigate.

For more information, or if you believe you have been subjected to sexual harassment at work, please contact Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP, a Georgia law firm dedicated to employee’s rights.