Harassment. In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that an employee could recover $100,000 in punitive damages from her employer after her complaints of sexual harassment were ignored.
In May 1995, Connie Blackmon was hired as a security guard by Pinkerton Inc. and was assigned to guard a manufacturing facility. In October, Blackmon was promoted to corporal and transferred from the day shift (where she had reported no problems with coworkers) to the night shift.
When she began working the night shift, Blackmon was subjected to the constant graphic sexual conversations of her coworkers. The other guards used lewd language to comment on the females entering the facility and graphically described the sexual acts they would like to perform with these women. Blackmon's direct supervisor, Sergeant Murphy, frequently instigated these conversations.
Blackmon often complained to her coworkers about their conduct. She then complained to Murphy, asking that the insulting behavior cease. Murphy dismissed Blackmon's grievances and told her that she was only complaining because she wasn't "getting any sex" herself.
After her concerns were ignored, Blackmon complained to Murphy's supervisor, Lieutenant Eugene Ackerly. The day after she filed the grievance, Blackmon was reprimanded for missing a portion of her patrol. The patrol area was not included in her rounds, and male guards were not punished for missing the same area. Also, Blackmon was forced to take her lunch breaks in the gatehouse. She had previously told Murphy that she took breaks in other parts of the facility to escape the sexually explicit conversations in the gatehouse. From this point on, when Blackmon complained about the abusive language, she was sent to stand watch alone at another gate.
Blackmon continued to submit formal complaints to Ackerly. On December 7, Ackerly came to the facility and reprimanded Blackmon in front of her coworkers. Ackerly told her that her promotion was "a joke" and that she was not receiving a corporal's salary and never would. Ackerly also said, "I don't promote women on my account, I get rid of them." He then told Blackmon's coworkers that they did not have to listen to her orders or her opinions.
After Ackerly's visit, the sexual remarks were focused on Blackmon. Instead of commenting on women in general, the guards asked Blackmon sexually explicit and degrading questions. Several weeks later, she decided to lodge another complaint with Ackerly.
However, because Ackerly was not available, Blackmon spoke to district manager Vince Rodriguez and Nancy O'Leary, Pinkerton's personnel administrator. Blackmon told them of her coworkers' behavior and gave them copies of conversations she had documented and of the reprimands she had received. Rodriguez told Blackmon that he would investigate her claims.
Two days later, Rodriguez told Ackerly of the complaints. Though it is unclear whether Rodriguez named Blackmon, Ackerly knew who the complainant was. He became angry and told Rodriguez that Blackmon was lying.
On December 30, Blackmon was ill and could not go to work. In accordance with company policy she attempted to contact Ackerly but could not reach him at his home, at work, or on his pager. As a last resort, she called the facility and told the day shift supervisor that she would not be coming to work. When she returned for her next assigned day of work, she was given a final warning accusing her of failing to follow the chain of command, insubordination, and violating the attendance policy. She was also demoted. Such severe punishment for a first-time offense, the court later determined, was in violation of the company's progressive discipline policy and was reserved for serious infractions or repeat offenders.
On January 5, Ackerly issued a memo prohibiting the use of "abusive and blasphemous language" in the workplace. …