USA: Court rules that one-time unwanted sexual advances can constitute a hostile work environment

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13 October 2015

Sexual harassment ruling could make your workplace safer

Author: Jason Volentine, KPHO/KTVK (USA)

Your workplace may be getting a little safer following a circuit court ruling that lowers the bar on what counts as a hostile work environment.  Sexual harassment in the workplace has been illegal for a long time, but a hostile work environment has traditionally meant a place where multiple incidents of harassment are tolerated or ignored…Now, a supervisor or fellow employee making unwanted sexual advances just one time can mean the company is on the hook for a lawsuit…In the case of Ault v. Oberlin College, the court said an employee who was sexually grabbed from behind by a supervisor just one time had every right to sue the company for creating a hostile workplace…In the past, employers have been successful getting these types of lawsuits dismissed…For employers, that could mean more complaints that must be taken seriously…For employees, that means “he said, she said” type complaints will get a much harder look, if not by employers then by the courts…

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24 July 2015

Ault, et al. v. Oberlin College, et al.

Author: Julia Smith Gibbons, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

The three plaintiff-appellants…were employees of Oberlin College and worked in the school’s Dining Services Department. Bon Appetit Management Company, a catering contractor, was responsible for operating Oberlin’s dining facilities. The plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to various acts of sexual harassment…They brought various claims against Oberlin, Bon Appetit, and Holliday, including a claim for hostile work environment sexual harassment…[A]reasonable jury could find that [the] alleged assault on [one of the plantiffs] was sufficiently severe by itself that it created a hostile work environment...[W]e reverse the district court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of Oberlin College…

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