In a case that definitely tried (unsuccessfully) to push the envelope, a Federal Court in Florida put the kibosh on an attempt by an employee of a school district to sue for gender discrimination. He alleged that his supervisor had engaged in ongoing efforts to solicit sex from the employee’s wife. You read that right: The supervisor wanted to have sex with the employee’s wife and sought the employee’s help in convincing her.
While working in the maintenance department of a school district under the direction of his supervisor, a “friend,” the employee said his supervisor continuously tried to solicit the employee’s wife for sexual activity. Specifically, he claimed that his supervisor (1) offered his wife money in return for sex; (2) offered money to the employee – maybe even a promotion! – if he could convince his wife to have sex with the supervisor; and (3) proposed the idea that the two men have sex with the employee’s wife and other women. Apparently, the supervisor’s antics did not stop there, as he also asked the employee to persuade waitresses to have sex with him in exchange for money.
The trial court threw out the case, and the appeals court confirmed the trial courts' decision. The court found that there was no evidence suggesting the supervisor’s treatment of the employee was based on the employee’s gender; thus, no reasonable juror could conclude that the supervisor discriminated against the employee because of his gender. From the court’s perspective, the supervisor was attracted to his friend’s wife, and the supervisor was talking to the employee “as a friend.”
Additionally, there was no evidence that the employee suffered from any adverse employment action that had any causal link, either directly or indirectly, to his supervisor’s conduct. Focusing on the men’s personal friendship, the court engaged in no discussion of the coercive impact of a supervisor leaning on an employee daily for sexual favors from his wife.
Would the result have been different if the supervisor and the employee had not been friends? It is quite possible, as there is no doubt that coercion based on sex, along with the firing of the employee, might have lead to a successful claim for sexual harassment.