Prevent Employer Liability By Properly Investigating Sexual Harassment Claims

A recent decision by a full panel of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) emphasizes the need for supervisors to understand their duty to act to ensure that unlawful harassment allegations are addressed and that any such conduct ceases.

Since 1998, two cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, enable employers to avoid liability for employee claims of sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 if: (1) the employer took reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct the harassing or discriminatory behavior, and (2) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the preventive or corrective opportunities provided.  Employer policies, training for its supervisors and investigative processes are taken into consideration in determining whether there were sufficient preventive or corrective opportunities provided to employees.  If the conduct, however, results in a tangible employment action such as a demotion or termination, then the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense is unavailable to the employer.

Although many states have not adopted this defense, a few states have advanced the law at the state level, at least in theory, to permit employers … Keep reading