A subordinate has made an accusation of sexual harassment against me for the way I looked at her – which I don’t even remember. No comments, actions, touching, etc. – she just felt “uncomfortable” about how she was looked at. HR says it’s not what is in my mind but what was in hers since she was “uncomfortable.”
Ann Kiernan replies:
HR is right to tell you that the law does not look at what an alleged harasser had in mind, but instead focuses on the impact the words, gestures, actions, etc. had on the alleged target or victim. But the standard for illegal harassment is not whether someone was “uncomfortable”; rather, it is whether the alleged harassment was severe or pervasive enough to interfere with work.
In a 2008 federal appeals case, a manager stared at his secretary’s breasts several times a day, but never made a sexual advance or any sexual comments. Several other women also complained that the manager stared at their chests. After a lower court dismissed the secretary’s harassment suit, the appeals court sent the case back for trial, noting that “