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.
The 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.