Under Title VII , for there to be a successful claim for a hostile workplace
due to sexual harassment, the behavior must be "severe and pervasive".
Just how bad does do the hostile actions need to be to survive a motion
by the employer to throw out the case?
Seven women employed by the Suffolk Laundry Services, Inc. brought a sexual
harassment lawsuit against the company through the EEOC under Title VII
and the New York State Human Rights Law. Each of the women alleged that
the plant manager touched and caressed them on various parts of their
bodies, including their shoulders, back, waist, face, hips, the back of
the neck, and buttocks.
One male co-worker allegedly touched a female employee's "intimate
parts", and also asked many of the women for hugs and kisses. Several
of the workers also testified to sexual comments, gestures, and notes,
including notes indicating that he wanted to have sex with one of the
workers and notes telling other workers that he found them attractive
and wanted to marry them. He also conditioned acquiescence to work-related
requests by some of the workers on their agreement to sit on his lap or hug him.
court found that the allegations were sufficiently severe and pervasive to support
a sexual harassment claim. One woman reported 15 separate instances of
caressing and touching over a period of 8 months. Another worker was only
granted work-related requests if she gave sexual favors such as setting
on a male co-worker's lap or placing an ear to his chest. One woman
testified that a manager repeatedly touched her buttocks, made comments
about her appearance, and looked at her breasts while licking his lips.
To make matters worse, the company did not provide sexual harassment training
or have any procedures for reporting harassment. The plant manager testified
that he did not know whether the company had a policy and was never told
that there was one in place.
The takeaway: Lewd behavior and comments alone are enough to support a
successful sexual harassment claim and to prove that a hostile work environment
exists in the workplace.