Court Report

Sexual Harassment Award for Same-Sex Touching Upheld

By Jeffrey L. Rhodes May 1, 2016

0516cover.jpgAn employer must pay a $300,000 award to a former employee who was the victim of same-sex harassment by a co-worker, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

Rock-Tenn Services Inc., based in Norcross, Ga., failed to take appropriate action after the employee complained that a male co-worker repeatedly touched his buttocks, the appeals court found.

The suit was filed by Jeffry L. Smith, who worked as a support technician at the company’s Murfreesboro, Tenn., plant. In two incidents in late 2010, employee Jim Leonard touched or grabbed Smith’s buttocks. Both times Smith told him to stop, as the company’s sexual harassment policy requires before bringing such issues to a manager.

In June 2011, as Smith was bending over to pick up boxes, Leonard grabbed his hips from behind and began rubbing his crotch against Smith to simulate sex.

Professional Pointer

To avoid liability, employers should investigate sexual harassment complaints promptly and thoroughly and take appropriate corrective action.

Smith then reported all three incidents to the plant superintendent and documented the conduct in a letter. However, the company delayed the investigation because Smith’s supervisor was on vacation at the time. Smith was sent back to work in the same area as Leonard.

Although three managers ultimately recommended terminating Leonard, the general manager instead placed him on a short suspension—despite an earlier written warning for a similar complaint. Leonard had been warned that future misconduct would result in his discharge.

Smith was unable to work due to anxiety. He filed suit in U.S. District Court and was awarded $300,000 in compensatory damages. The appeals court affirmed that ruling.

  Jeffrey L. Rhodes is an attorney with Doumar Martin PLLC in Arlington, Va.

Legal Briefs

Hispanic Ethnicity Qualifies as ‘Race’ Under Anti-Discrimination Law

A non-Hispanic white employee can pursue a claim that his employer discriminated against him by favoring a Hispanic employee, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. The court recognized that Hispanic identity constitutes a “race” under the federal civil rights employment laws, and thus a non-Hispanic individual can sue for discrimination when passed over in favor of a Hispanic individual under those laws.

Employee’s Overtime Claim UNDER FLSA Rejected

An employee failed to win a claim for overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) because she couldn’t show that the employer had knowledge of the overtime hours allegedly worked, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. Although the employee failed to report her overtime hours, she claimed that the organization could have verified that she worked the extra time. The court held that the question was whether the employer should have known about her overtime, not whether the company had the potential ability to discover it.

Reverse Race Discrimination Case to Be Heard by Jury

A white construction worker who said he was laid off from a Missouri project because it wasn’t meeting its labor contract’s federally mandated minority-hiring goal can take his claims to trial, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. The worker claimed that the project superintendent told him that he would be laid off because the project’s “minority numbers” weren’t right.


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect