Sexual Discrimination by Jilted Co-Worker

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Sexual Discrimination by Jilted Co-Worker

Although a majority of sexual harassment cases involve women being harassed by men, occasionally we see a case where the tables are turned. Proving that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, Antonio Velazquez-Perez filed a lawsuit against his employer, DDR Corp., claiming that a human relations worker for the company fired him because he had rejected her romantic advances.

In June 2007, Velázquez began work as an operations manager for DDR, a company that owns and manages shopping centers. In November 2007, the company promoted Velázquez to the position of regional general manager at the company, which he held until DDR fired him on August 25, 2008. He interacted extensively at work with Rosa Martinez, who was a human resources manager. The two sometimes flirted with each other, but Velazquez gently rebuffed her advances.

Things got a bit more complicated when they both went on a business trip and Martinez tried to force her way into Velazquez's room to the point where he threatened to call security. Soon after the incident, Velázquez and Martinez exchanged angry emails in which Velázquez firmly stated that he had no interest in a romantic relationship and asked Martinez to respect that decision. Martinez responded angrily, making statements that Velázquez perceived as threatening to have him fired for rejecting her. Martinez then recommended to her supervisors that Velazquez be fired "because his behavior has been against the company code of conduct and has already impacted the trust from other team members."

Velazquez sued claiming that a hostile workplace environment existed due to his being subject to sexual harassment by Martinez and that his employer was negligent in permitting a co-worker to engage in acts of sexual discrimination.

With regard to the sexual harassment claim, the Federal Court (Velazquez v. DDR) ruled against Velazquez, finding that a hostile work environment did not exist, given the lack of physical touching, implicit physical coercion, extreme language, or obscene behavior. However, the court found that enough evidence existed for a sexual discrimination claim. It ruled that "An employer can be held liable under Title VII if: the plaintiff's co-worker makes statements maligning the plaintiff, for discriminatory reasons and with the intent to cause the plaintiff's firing; the co-worker's discriminatory acts proximately cause the plaintiff to be fired; and the employer acts negligently by allowing the co-worker's acts to achieve their desired effect though it knows ... of the discriminatory motivation".

The takeaway? Women typically don't engage in the type of aggressive sexual behavior that is required for a successful sexual harassment claim. But if a woman is in a position to take a negative employment action against a male co-worker for refusing her sexual advances, then a sexual discrimination claim might very well succeed. In a business environment in which women are increasingly promoted to positions where they are supervising men, we are likely to see more of these types of cases in the future.

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