Posted 07-24-2012

Sure, times are tough, and perhaps your organization’s training budget has taken a hit. But so-called “bargain” anti-harassment training may turn out to be very expensive if it’s not effective, as a recent federal appeals case demonstrates. Teenagers Katrina Shisler and Michelle Powell were servers at an IHOP in Wisconsin. They complained to the general manager that supervisors had grabbed and groped them, talked dirty to them, and even propositioned them. The GM said she “would take care of it”, but nothing happened. When one of the teenagers complained again, the GM told her “I don’t need to hear it.” The waitresses went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued on their behalf.

In court, company officials claimed the restaurant had a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment, and provided training for all staff. The training consisted of showing new hires a harassment videotape, handing them a copy of the policy, and asking them to read and sign it.

But the “policy and complaint mechanism were not … effective in practice,” the court found. And although management was required to take sexual harassment training, “the evidence … suggested that the training was inadequate …

[N]ot only was the policy and the management training ineffective, but the protections offered by them were illusory”, because the managerial employees did not carry out their duties (often ignoring employee complaints), delayed investigations for months, and in fact were themselves engaged in harassing behavior.

The IHOP franchise also argued that one of the teens could not have been offended by her supervisor’s crude comments because she had a sexually graphic video on her MySpace page. The appeals court threw out that argument, pointing out that “sharing jokes with friends in an online community is vastly different than being propositioned for sex by a supervisor at work.”

The two waitresses were awarded compensatory and punitive damages, and the case has been sent back to the trial court for a determination of whether additional damages should be assessed against the IHOP franchise’s management company. (EEOC v. Management Hospitality of Racine, Inc. 666 F.3d 422 (7th Cir. 2012))

What this means to you:

My eye doctor has a sign in his waiting room: “Beware of bargains in parachutes, brain surgery, and eye care.” After this case, we could add “…and anti-harassment training.”

Let’s face it: You get what you pay for. Sure, it’s cheap to buy an anti-harassment video, throw it in the player, and have employees watch it, but it’s not effective training. Neither is having employees go through an online course where they can fast-forward and check the boxes, but are not challenged or engaged by a live instructor. For 30 years, Fair Measures has provided the best in employee and management training, both in the classroom and on the Web, using case studies, quizzes, videos, and group exercises to make learning points stick, and always taught by an experienced attorney-trainer.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.