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Employer must act decisively on sexual harassment complaint

Sexual harassment of an employee is prohibited by federal and state anti-discrimination laws. It can include unwelcome sexual advances, trying to trade job enhancement or promotions for sex or the creation of a hostile environment that makes the employee's job generally unbearable. Sexual harassment in California and all other states will not exist by mere teasing or offhand comments made in isolated instances; instead, the violation requires a set pattern of pervasive taunting, harassing, insulting or other repetitive hostile behavior so as to create an intolerable and offensive environment for the victim .

If the discrimination results in an adverse employment action with respect to hiring, firing, promoting, demoting or any other material aspect of the employment relationship, it is also a violation of law. Sexual harassment at work can be perpetrated by a supervisor, co-worker or even a customer or third party. The key is that the employer will become liable for not taking reasonable and timely action to first investigate, and then eliminate, any violations that are factually supported.                                                                                                    

A recent settlement between the University of Colorado and a former female employee entails the school paying the amount of $80,000 in damages to the woman. The woman's complaint is that she was fired after rejecting sexual advances from a supervisor. She complained that a male supervisor tried to get her to view him as a father figure and then made unwanted sexual advances toward her for a period of years.

That is a rather straightforward claim that requires the plaintiff to prove facts supporting the sexual harassment allegations. In such situations, both in California and other jurisdictions, it is important that the employer take swift action to investigate the matter after receiving the employee's complaint. If the facts are found to be true, swift action must be taken to assure that the employee will not be further harassed. Where the employer fails to act or fails to investigate, then that will be a strong indication of a violation of the anti-discrimination laws.

Source:, "CU settles sexual harassment lawsuit against former administrator for $80K", Sarah Kuta, Jan. 18, 2016

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