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When Is Harassing Conduct ‘Severe’ Enough?

Kevin Perry worked as a corrections officer for the Westchester County Department of Corrections in New York. Perry was assigned to the DOC’s booking unit, and Captain Robert Slensby was one of his supervisors. In July 2014, Perry completed a medical leave and returned to work at the DOC. Perry testified that on July 22, 2014, he was in jail booking with Slensby when Slensby placed his hands on…

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Sheriff’s Hugging Can Be Sexual Harassment

Court opinions cutting back on sexual harassment lawsuits have become so commonplace that it is a comparative rarity to see a sexual harassment claim allowed to proceed through the litigation process. A recent federal court of appeals decision, however, seemed to draw a bit of a line in the sand – unwanted hugging can possibly amount to sexual harassment. Victoria Zetwick is a correctional sergeant with Yolo County, California….

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‘Hugs And Kisses’ Can Be Sexual Harassment

Victoria Zetwick is a correctional officer with Yolo County, California. Zetwick sued the County, alleging that Sheriff Edward Prieto created a sexually hostile work environment by, among other things, greeting her with unwelcome hugs and/or kisses on more than one hundred occasions over a twelve-year period. A trial court granted the County’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, finding that Prieto’s conduct was not objectively severe or pervasive enough to…

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Chief’s Porn Comments Result In Loss Of His Job

The opinion of the Montana Supreme Court in a case involving Colstrip Police Chief Larry Reinlasoder starts off with a bang: “‘You ain’t getting s––– for Christmas! I’ve just examined your computer and it’s full of porn, you f pervert,’ read a captioned picture of Santa Claus attached to a December 2007 office email from Reinlasoder, one of many instances of misconduct cited by Colstrip when it discharged Reinlasoder…

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Sexual Insults Do Not Amount To Harassment Under Illinois Law

Haydee Martinez, who is a lesbian, was hired in November 2001 by Northwestern University in Illinois. In 2003, Martinez began reporting to Sergeant Timothy Reuss, a heterosexual male, who was aware of her sexual orientation from at least the time he became her supervisor. Martinez alleged that from March 2003 to March 2011, Reuss often used the terms “fag,” “faggot,” “pussy,” “cocksucker,” and “sissy” in her presence when referring…

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Sexual Harassment Verdict For Tucson Firefighter Reinstated

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires anyone filing a hostile work environment harassment claim to lodge the claim within “300 days of any act that is part of the hostile work environment.” Michelle Maliniak is a fire engineer with the Tucson Fire Department. At Maliniak’s assigned station, male firefighters repeatedly used the women’s bathroom, leaving it dirty and walking in on Maliniak. After Maliniak brought the issue…

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Pornography Can Be Basis For Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Theresa Brooks was assigned to the Narcotics Strike Force of the Philadelphia Police Department. According to Brooks, the environment within the operations room at the Strike Force was overly hostile towards female employees. Brooks testified that her male colleagues would watch pornographic films on the television set in the operations room at the Strike Force and would laugh at her while showing the films. Brooks testified that the operations…

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Colorful Decision Upholds Discrimination Verdict For Firefighter

From the opening words of a federal court’s opinion in Firefighter Melissa Smith’s sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the City of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, one realizes that the Court’s opinion is going to be unlike most “just the facts, ma’am” judicial decisions. Judge Gregory Presnell began his opinion writing: “Discrimination in the workplace anywhere in the United States is inconsistent with the concept of ordered liberty as…

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Arbitrator’s Sexual Harassment Opinion Upheld

Over the last decade, the United States Supreme Court has significantly tightened up on the standards for what constitutes sexual harassment. It is no overstatement to say that what might have been considered a very viable sexual harassment claim ten years ago might now be flatly rejected by the courts. It was inevitable that the changing definition of sexual harassment would find its way into disciplinary cases. A recent…

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Sexual Comments Alone Often Not Enough For Harassment Claim

Nora Chaib was a correctional officer with the State of Indiana’s Pendleton Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. After she was hired, Chaib participated in six weeks of classroom instruction at the New Castle Correctional Facility followed by training with a field training officer, during a six-month probationary period. Chaib received on-site training at Pendleton from various trainers, including Field Training Officer Leonard Van Dine. In November 2008, Chaib…

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Supreme Court Eases Employer Sexual Harassment Liability Even More

In two 1998 cases, the United States Supreme Court adopted new rules of employer liability in sexual harassment cases. The cases, Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998), and Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998), created what became known as the “Faragher-Ellerth defense,” and have shielded employers from liability in many harassment lawsuits over the years. Under the rule, an employer is not liable for…

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Court Reinstates Arbitrator’s Decision Reversing Discharge Of Firefighter For Sexual Harassment

In November 2000, several firefighters working for the South County Fire Protection Authority in San Mateo County, California were idling in the dayroom of the firehouse. Captain Ronald Doss walked up behind Firefighter Gregory Nave, who was sitting in a recliner. Another firefighter said to Doss, “Why don’t you put your dick on his head?” Trouble ensued. While Doss claimed he placed his fingers on Nave’s head as a…

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Fire Department Responded Adequately To Sexual Harassment Allegations

Shannon Moran is a female firefighter with the City of Detroit, Michigan. One night, Moran was assigned to “cot duty,” where she slept on a cot near a computer to monitor and alert the other firefighters of any calls for service. Moran was woken up by her direct supervisor, Sergeant Terry Tatum, when he inappropriately touched her underneath her shorts. Moran immediately reported the incident to Detroit police. The…

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The High Bar For Sexual Harassment Claims

Owing to several decisions by the United States Supreme Court, the law on sexual harassment has constricted greatly in the last few years. The new difficult standard was illustrated in a recent case involving the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. During the process of her application to be a deputy sheriff, Catherine Logerot was interviewed by Deputy Sheriff Joseph Morien. Logerot alleged that during the interview, Morien asked her…

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Sexual Comments Directed At Deputy’s Wife Not Sexual Harassment

John Rose was a jailer with the Upshur County, Texas Sheriff’s Department. Rose learned that two Sheriff’s Department employees had made inappropriate sexual comments and/or suggestive communications with his wife. Rose complained to the chief deputy about the employees’ comments and communications. On February 2, 2010, Rose’s wife, Crystal Rose, e-mailed Upshur County Sheriff’s Department Captain Gary Roberts to complain that a Sheriff’s Department employee was spreading rumors and…

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Officer Wins Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Both Perpetrator And Employer

Shirley Johnson is an officer with the City of Belzoni, Mississippi Police Department. Johnson sued the City, Police Chief Mickey Foxworth, and Belzoni Police Officer David James, claiming she was sexually harassed at work by James for approximately a year. Johnson reported the harassment to her supervisor, Foxworth, but claimed insufficient action was taken to remedy the situation. The matter proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a unanimous…

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Failure To Train And Sexual Misconduct

Joshua Mozeleski is a Chicopee, Massachusetts police officer. On the night of November 9, 2007, Yolanda Claudio was acting as the designated driver during celebrations for her cousin’s birthday. After she dropped her cousin off at the end of the night, she noticed Joshua Mozeleski, whom she did not know, in a nearby parked police cruiser. Mozeleski subsequently drove off and Claudio left a short time later. Mozeleski circled…

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City Loses ‘Public Policy’ Challenge To Arbitrator’s Opinion Reinstating Fire Inspector

As the previous article indicates, the “public policy” exception to the finality of arbitrator’s opinions is a narrow one, and is usually unsuccessful. A recent case involving the San Jose Fire Department illustrates the narrow scope of the exception. The case involved Michael Baldwin, a fire inspector. In April 2008, a co-worker complained about Baldwin’s inappropriate behavior toward herself and other female employees, prompting an investigation by the City….

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Firefighter Not Coerced Into Resigning

Kelvin Ross, who is African-American, was a firefighter for the City of Perry, Georgia. A fellow firefighter, Renee Kitchens, complained to Ross that a supervisor wore a T-shirt that offended her. The T-shirt depicted a firefighter laying on the front of a fire truck, dressed in shorts, slippers, a hat, and a shirt pulled up exposing his stomach. His legs were spread apart and something appeared to be in…

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‘Gross Error’ Required To Reverse Arbitrator’s Decision In Alaska

The termination of a four-year officer of the Airport Police and Fire Department of the Alaska Department of Transportation gave the Alaska Supreme Court the opportunity to revisit the standard used to evaluate arbitrators’ opinions. The termination was based on two events that occurred in May 2006 while the officer was working at the Alaska Law Enforcement Academy in Sitka, Alaska, and on the officer’s conduct during the subsequent…

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Fire Chief Loses Defamation Lawsuit Against Union

Bernard Becker was the Fire Chief for the Clearcreek Township Fire District in Ohio. In 2008, Local 4207 of the International Association of Fire Fighters sent an unsigned letter to the Township’s administrator. The letter contained allegations that Becker had engaged in acts of sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, and abused his authority. Sometime later, the media publicized the letter. Becker retired from his job and sued Local 4207,…

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Fire Department Appropriately Responds To ‘Chumming’

John Banacki is a firefighter with the City of South Bend, Indiana Fire Department. Bawdy humor and practical jokes were common at the Department’s Station 6, where Banacki was assigned. Often, Banacki and the other firefighters participated in off-color jokes and pranks at the expense of other firefighters. On August 2, 2007, Banacki was playing cards with five other firefighters. During a break in play, another firefighter, Steven Vandervoort…

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Firefighter Loses Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Tonya Godsey-Marshall was an Assistant Fire Chief with the Village of Phillipsburg, Ohio. Godsey-Marshall filed a lawsuit against the Village, alleging in part that she was the victim of sexual harassment. Godsey-Marshall pointed to several incidents occurring in the Fire Department during 2008. For several days, one of the firefighters had posted over his gear-stall a sign that said “GIGANTIC MEAT.” Also, someone placed a sign on a broom…

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Texas Civil Service Arbitrators Can Impose No Greater Than 15-Day Suspension

Kenneth Miller was a lieutenant with the Houston, Texas Police Department. In 2006, a coworker alleged that Miller had sexually harassed her. Following an investigation, the Department “indefinitely suspended” Miller. An “indefinite suspension” is the functional equivalent of a termination. Under Texas civil service law, a terminated employee has the option of appealing to an independent hearing examiner, who elsewhere might be termed an arbitrator. The Arbitrator who heard…

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Corrections Officer Successfully States Sexual Harassment Claim

Owing chiefly to several decisions of the United States Supreme Court, it has become extremely difficult for employees to successfully bring sexual harassment lawsuits. Recent estimates are that employees lose approximately 95% of sexual harassment claims brought in federal court. These results are largely the product of case law that requires harassing conduct to be “severe and pervasive,” and not “simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents.” A case…

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