Knowledge Of Harassing Conduct By Supervisors Not Necessarily Imputed To Employer

Julie Weger and Mary Murphy are female dispatchers with the City of Ladue, Missouri Police Department. Weger and Murphy sued the City, alleging sexual harassment on the part of William Baldwin, a captain in the Department. Baldwin had engaged in a series of harassing actions and comments, including unwanted touching of various parts of Murphy’s and Weger’s bodies, comments about their breasts, unwanted discussion of sexual activities, and comments about the bodies of other women.

Weger and Murphy were suing the City as well as Baldwin. A key element of the lawsuit against the City was whether the City had notice of Baldwin’s harassing behavior. Under the law, if sexual harassment comes to the attention of someone who has the duty to report the harassment, that knowledge may be imputed to the employer.

Murphy and Weger cited the following incidents of harassment, all of which were witnessed by Department employees: (1) An officer saw Baldwin tickle Murphy and follow her with his hands outstretched; (2) a detective saw Baldwin with his arm around Murphy’s shoulder, leaning close to her face; (3) a sergeant and an officer saw Baldwin massaging Murphy’s shoulders; (4) a different detective saw Baldwin rub Weger’s shoulders; (5) Baldwin told a sergeant that Murphy had a breast reduction; and (6) Baldwin told a sergeant and a lieutenant that Murphy was not much to look at but had “big tits.”

The Court found that this knowledge by Department employees could not be imputed to the City. The Court reasoned that “because these six occurrences happened over a prolonged period of time, and no single officer saw more than three incidents of inappropriate conduct, the witnessed incidents were insufficient to put a Department employee on notice that Baldwin was harassing Murphy or Weger.”

The Court accordingly concluded that, through the promulgation of a strict sexual harassment policy, the City exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior, and was not liable to Weger and Murphy for Baldwin’s conduct.

Weger v. City of Ladue, 2006 WL 571986 (E.D.Mo. 2006).

This article appears in the April 2006 issue