You might think that the typical sexual harassment case involves a man harassing a woman, and you would be right. But sexual harassment also includes man-to-man, woman-to-woman, and, as recently discussed by a federal appeals court, woman-to-man.
Rudolpho Lamas, a recent widower, worked with Sylvia Munoz, a married woman. Mrs. Munoz became infatuated with Mr. Lamas, and starting sending him love notes and propositioning him. Mr. Lamas complained to the assistant general manager, who told him that he should tell Mrs. Munoz to stop and let management know if she didn’t. Mr. Lamas had already told Mrs. Munoz that he was not interested, but, following the manager’s advice, he told her again. Mrs. Munoz did not stop, but instead gave Mr. Lamas another love note and a picture of herself.
Mr. Lamas next asked for help from his immediate supervisor, who promised to speak to Mrs. Munoz and to the general manager, but did neither. Mrs. Munoz kept it up, and gave Mr. Lamas a third note that was explicitly sexual. By this time, Mrs. Munoz had told other co-workers of her interest in Mr. Lamas, and they began lobbying him on her behalf. He told them he was not interested, and co-workers began taunting Mr. Lamas, accusing him of being gay.
Mr. Munoz then went to the general manager, and asked him to make Mrs. Munoz stop. The manager said he “did not want to get involved in personal matters” but he agreed to speak to Mrs. Munoz as a favor to Mr. Lamas. The manager spoke to Mrs. Munoz and warned her to stop, but she didn’t stop, but instead began making suggestive remarks and gestures whenever she was around Mr. Lamas, on a daily basis.
Mr. Lamas began to feel oppressed and abused by the constant pressure from Mrs. Munoz and co-workers. He felt helpless and cried, and went to a psychologist about his emotional distress. He went back to the assistant general manager, who said the harassment “was a joke” and that Mr. Lamas should “walk around singing to yourself … ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt.'” Although Mr. Lamas had recently been promoted because of his superior customer service skills, his performance deteriorated as the harassment went on, and eventually he was demoted, then fired, for poor performance.
Mr. Lamas complained to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which then filed a sexual harassment lawsuit on his behalf. In a September, 2010 opinion, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that that Mrs. Munoz’s “relentless” pursuit of Mr. Lamas could form the basis of a sexually hostile work environment.
In its opinion, the appeals court firmly rejected the stereotype that a man should welcome sexual attention from a female co-worker:
It cannot be assumed that because a man receives sexual advances from a woman that those advances are welcome…