Two Million Dollar Lesson: Who Knew Same Sex Harassment Liability Could Cost So Much

Posted by Melissa Fleischer, Esq. on Apr 14th 2014

Managers need to understand that sexual harassment does not just need to occur between a man and a woman. In fact, managers have often made the mistake of thinking that when one man or woman harasses another individual of the same sex it does not violate the employer’s Sexual Harassment Policy and have therefore ignored the complaint.

Such was the case in a recent case brought by the EEOC against a New Mexico Company, EEOC v. Pitre Inc. d.b.a. Pitre Buick/Pontiac, CIV No. 11-00875 BB/CG based on a manager’s same-sex harassment of 50 employees at the New Mexico auto dealership which ended up costing the company big time. Allegedly, the manager engaged in horrific conduct over a ten-year period which included, according to the EEOC’s press release “egregious forms of sexual harassment, including shocking sexual comments, frequent solicitations for oral sex, and regular touching, grabbing, and biting of male workers on their buttocks and genitals. In addition, when the employees complained to management, management not only took no action to protect the workers but in addition retaliated against them. The auto dealership ended up settling the case for over 2 million dollars, which was the largest litigation settlement in the entire history of the EEOC’s Albuquerque Area Office.

In another incident involving same sex harassment, managers at the Cheesecake Factory also ignored the severe sexual harassment that a group of male kitchen workers were subjected to by their male co-workers including dragging them into the large refrigerators in the kitchen and simulating sex with them, grinding their bodies up against them and touching their genitals. Again when the workers complained to management they were ignored because the managers believed that this was just “what guys do” and “horsing around” that did not violate their sexual harassment policy because it was male-on-male.

Make sure that you do not make this mistake in your workplace. Ensure that your sexual harassment policy prohibits same sex harassment and make sure that your Anti-Harassment Training incorporates same-sex harassment so that managers and employees understand your prohibitions concerning same-sex harassment. In addition, ensure that management not only understands its obligations to take prompt corrective action when there has been a complaint of same-sex harassment but also understands that retaliation of any kind is absolutely prohibited.