Sexual Harassment

Article excerpt

A federal appellate court has ruled that an employee could pursue a sexual harassment claim against her employer, in part because the company's sexual harassment prevention policy was confusing.

Lesley Gentry was hired as a temporary employee at Export Packing Company in Moline, Illinois, in October 1997. By January 1998, she had been promoted to the position of administrative assistant to technical services. Gentry shared an office with her direct supervisor, Leo Broughton.

When Gentry was promoted, Broughton began sexually harassing her. Broughton frequently hugged, rubbed, kissed, and patted Gentry. Among other incidents, Broughton referred to Gentry as his "sex-retary" and told her that her clothes would look better on the floor. He also gave her a calendar depicting cartoon drawings of different sexual positions and told her to "pick out a couple of her favorites."

Gentry resisted Broughton's advances and spoke with Benefits Coordinator Vicki Hanske about the incidents on two different occasions. When no action was taken, Gentry resigned in April 1998. She then filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Export Packing.

A jury found in favor of Gentry and awarded her $25,000 in compensation. Export appealed the decision.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the lower court's decision. In reviewing the case, the court noted that in a case where the plaintiff suffered no adverse employment action, such as discharge or demotion, as a result of the harassment, a company may mount a successful defense. The company can defend against a sexual harassment claim by proving that it had exercised reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment and that the plaintiff had unreasonably failed to take advantage of the company's prevention program. The court ruled that in this case, the company had failed to prove these points.

The company did have a sexual harassment prevention policy, which stated that an employee should report harassment to his or her "immediate supervisor, division manager, or human resource representative, whichever the employee feels is appropriate under the circumstances. …