Proving sexual harassment is more than just showing that sexual harassment occurred. To establish a claim in court, an employee must also show that the company is responsible for that harassment. Schwartz Perry & Heller is pleased to announce that we have successfully won an appeal that will help victims of sexual harassment prove that their employers are responsible.
In this case, we represent a Dispatcher with the New York City Transit Authority. When she started working at a new location, she found herself being degraded and humiliated by a bus operator. While she was technically senior in authority, this bus operator had a high-level union position. The Transit Authority had essentially made him untouchable in the workplace. It was an open secret that this union official sexually harassed women in the workplace.
Once it became too much, the plaintiff had to bravely file a formal complaint. Even then, the Transit Authority did not take any genuine action and the union official continued to harass her. Throughout the following years, the plaintiff was subjected to comments, rumors and insults by Transit employees at all levels.
The Transit Authority made a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that it could not be responsible for the union official’s conduct because he was not a manager and no one had formally complained about his sexual harassment before. The lower court rejected this argument and set the case for trial. The Transit Authority appealed that decision.
On April 21, 2022, the First Department rejected the Transit Authority’s appeal. The Court held that even though the union office did not have the authority to hire or fire, his “de facto ability to direct other employees” made the Transit Authority liable for his actions. The Court also noted that the Transit Authority was liable because other supervisory employees knew about the union official’s sexual harassment and did nothing to stop it.
Most importantly, the Court recognized how the Transit Authority’s failure to enforce its policy against discrimination created the environment that allowed sexual harassment. The union official had not been trained in the anti-discrimination policy, nothing had been done in response to prior instances, and “there was a known culture of shaming women who complained of discrimination.” The court also noted that the insults that the plaintiff was subjected to after she complained could be viewed as retaliation.
This case affirms that employers who do not take sexual harassment seriously will have to answer for their actions. We are pleased that our client will finally have her day in court.