Lack of Harassment Training Lands Employer in Court

An employer that did not provide employees training on sexual harassment was ordered to go to trial by a federal court of appeals.

The employee who filed suit, Ms. Pullen, was a temporary clerk who was supervised by the accused harasser for seven months. She alleged that he made repeated sexually harassing remarks, touched her thigh once and put his arm around her several times, and called her into his office where he showed her inappropriate pictures of other women that he had stored on an external hard drive.

Ms. Pullen knew that the employer had a policy prohibiting harassment, as she had been interviewed in the course of a harassment investigation on behalf of another employee. However, she and other employees testified that they received no training, and no information from the employer about the sexual harassment policy. They also said they never noticed the posted policy, leading the court to conclude that the policy was not posted in a conspicuous location as required by law.

If the employer had provided training and information, and had posted the policy in a way that it would be noticed, the employer would have won the case without having to go to trial, because Ms. Pullen did not follow the policy and file an internal complaint before going to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Instead, the employer now has to face a jury, or settle the case. (Pullen v. Caddo Parish School Board (5th Cir 07/20/2016))

What this means to you: Managers may think this is an HR problem, but the fact is that managers are the ones who get named in lawsuits, not HR. As a manager, you should make sure that your employees go to training, and that they sign a certification that they were given a copy of the harassment policy. Then if you are named in a lawsuit, without the employee first filing an internal complaint, the case should be dismissed before ever going to trial.

Book our Harassment Prevention Training or Respectful Workplace workshop for your managers today.

Posted 09-13-2016

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.


About the Author:

Rita M. Risser Chai is the founder of Fair Measures. An attorney in California for 20 years and now an attorney in Hawaii, she authored the Prentice Hall book, Stay Out of Court! The Manager’s Guide to Preventing Employee Lawsuits. She developed most of the curriculum used by Fair Measures, created the firm’s first website praised in HR Magazine, and wrote numerous articles on employment law including one on best practice harassment prevention training published in the magazine of the American Society for Training and Development (now ATD). She taught Law and Human Resources at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for eight years, and has presented four times at the annual conventions of the Hawaii Society of Human Resource Management.