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Sexual Relationship in the Workplace Is Not Always Sexual Harassment

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The end of a personal relationship may not be the basis for a sexual harassment lawsuit. In Mauro v. Orville, 259 A.D.2d 89 (3d Dept. 1999). The plaintiff, a legal secretary, entered into a consensual personal relationship with her supervisor of many years. Eighteen months after the relationship began, the supervisor broke it off, expressing a desire to reconcile with his wife. The supervisor, at the behest of his wife, then terminated the woman, who brought a lawsuit for sexual discrimination.

The Third Department, an appellate court in New York State, held that the woman did not present a claim of sexual discrimination. The court noted that once the woman entered into a consensual relationship with her employer, she chose to leave the normal employment relationship, and "in the realm of private affairs people do not have the right to react to rejection, jealousy and other emotions" that are not covered by the human rights law. Moreover, since it was the employer and not the woman who ended the relationship, the plaintiff was not subjected to any unwelcome sexual conduct.

As demonstrated by Mauro, a failed yet voluntary relationship in the workplace may not always lead to a claim of sexual harassment, even if such a relationship is, as the court noted, "antithetical to good business practices."

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