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Employer must investigate hostile work environment claims

A hostile work environment based on sexual harassment may include compelling an employee to suffer unwanted sexual behavior and banter from other employees, supervisors, or even customers. Once the employee reports her hostile work environment claims, the employer must make a good faith investigation and take appropriate action or the employee will have a claim for hostile work environment. If the employer responds timely to a complaint and eliminates the behavior there is no recovery for sexual harassment under both Pennsylvania and federal law.

The harassment establishing a hostile work environment must be frequent, severe and pervasive. Isolated behavior is usually insufficient to prove a sexual harassment case. The behavior must negatively impact on the person's job performance or must have an effect on the terms, conditions or privileges of the employment. Stated another way, the harassment must be sufficiently egregious to change materially the nature of the job, which evolves to envelop the employee in an abusive and extremely distasteful working environment.

When the employee complains about hostile work environment harassment, the employer cannot retaliate with punitive action against the employee. Retaliation is illegal and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Retaliation gives the employee a separate claim for damages.

In New Jersey, a hostile work environment suit was recently filed by a female auxiliary police officer who claims that when she complained of sexual harassment she was never called back to work. That sets the factual groundwork for a claim of retaliation. The plaintiff claims that after she went through a divorce a male police officer began referencing the size of her breast, the size of his sexual organ, and asked vulgar questions not related to work.

She says that he also told dirty jokes. She claims the harassment did not stop after she complained to the employer. In Pennsylvania that is likely sufficient to satisfy the requirements of hostile work environment claims, depending on further development of the evidence in the case. The question of retaliation will have to be further fleshed out. The employer is trying to say that it never terminated the employee.

Source: mycentraljersey.com, $1M discrimination lawsuit spells trouble for Old Bridge police, Sergio Bichao, Jan. 24, 2014

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