Ousted Homestead official proceeds in case

Legal representation for the city of Homestead, Florida, attempted to block legal action taken by its former deputy city manager in a case where workplace harassment has taken center stage. However, just recently, a judge in Florida permitted the trial to move forward and lawyers on both sides can continue gathering evidence to build a case.

The legal action was initially filed in September of 2011 and detailed tales where fellow city officials violated the former deputy city manager’s trust. The woman was fired from her duties in 2009, but at the time, claimed that she was being sexually harassed by the now former city manager. The ousted woman told city officials that she would not pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit if they agreed to pay her severance.

Despite the agreement, city officials still released romantic text messages between the woman and the city manager. This, according to the woman and her lawyers, infringed on her privacy and defamed her.

The opposition argues that the text messages, which were dug up by a third party investigator hired by the city, should be public record because they had to do with business. The defense stated that because the city manager was the woman’s superior, it affected everyday business.

Furthermore, the woman might have hurt herself by providing conflicting accounts of the supposed sexual harassment while on the job. When the former city manager decided to sue Homestead for wrongful termination, the woman was presented as a witness. She stated that she was not offended by the manager’s romantic text messages.

Sexual harassment on the job should never be misinterpreted or used as a bartering tool. The outcome of this suit will have a lot to do with whether the woman was genuinely harassed while employed with the city.

If the woman was taken aback by the romantic text messages, she should have spoken up right away and took her manager to task. Like many others, perhaps she was worried about retaliation and feared losing her job.

Source: The Miami Herald, “Homestead ex-employee’s lawsuit moving forward,” Christina Veiga, July 31, 2012

Outcome of Supreme Court case may change harassment law

Name calling in Florida’s workplaces may not always be just name calling. For example, if the offensive conduct involves a protected category and is pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment, it could be against the law. In such event, your employer may be held accountable.

The United State Supreme Court recently agreed to hear such a case. What makes the case unique, however, is that its outcome may change the definition of supervisory liability for workplace harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case involves the sole African-American employee in the banquet and catering department of a state university. The employee alleges she was the victim of racial harassment by her coworkers and supervisors. The employee brought a hostile work environment claim against the university, believing it should be vicariously responsible for those actions. However, both a lower court and the Seventh Circuit dismissed the claim, determining that the employee had not established a legal basis for holding the state university liable.

Under current federal law — set by U.S. Supreme Court precedents — an employer can be held vicariously liable for severe or pervasive harassment in the workplace perpetrated by an employee’s supervisor. However, those decisions stop short of providing an unambiguous definition of supervisor. Some require daily oversight of an employee’s work, whereas other courts define a supervisor as anyone with hiring or firing authority.

To be illegal, workplace harassment must result in a hostile, abusive, or intimidating work environment for the employee based on a protected category, such as race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. A variety of conduct may qualify as offensive, including comments, images or jokes targeted at an individual.

Workplace harassment can negatively affect your work performance, future opportunities for career advancement, and cause you to think about quitting a job you enjoy. If you are being harassed by a coworker or employer in the workplace because of a protected category, you may be entitled to take legal action. An attorney can review the facts of your case and determine whether you might be able to bring a claim and obtain compensation.

Source: Business Insurance, “Supreme Court to clarify what constitutes a supervisor in harassment cases,” Judy Greenwald, June 26, 2012