- The operator of a home improvement chain violated federal law when it allowed female employees to be subjected to sexual harassment at one of its Michigan locations, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit.
- Despite receiving several complaints that an assistant manager sent pornographic messages to several female subordinates and engaged in inappropriate physical contact with another, a Menards department manager failed to take action for a year and half after the first complaint was made. Instead, the manager allegedly told the assistant "not to dip his pen in company ink."
- When a final complaint was made to human resources, the assistant manager was investigated and terminated, EEOC said.
EEOC takes fault with Menards' failure to act after receiving the initial complaints. "Companies have a responsibility under the law to take sexual harassment complaints seriously and investigate them promptly," EEOC Trial Attorney Miles Uhlar said in a statement. "While Menards eventually addressed the harassment, management's failure to act on several complaints allowed the harassment to continue for over a year."
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on sex, among other characteristics. An employer may be automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor if it results in an adverse employment action such as termination, failure to promote or hire, or loss of wages, according to EEOC.
If harassment by a supervisor harassment creates a hostile work environment, the employer can avoid liability only if it can prove that it reasonably and promptly tried to prevent and correct the harassing behavior, and that the employee failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities, EEOC says in guidance.
But managers and supervisors, who are the first lines of defense when it comes to discrimination, often aren't prepared to handle complaints of discrimination, bias, harassment, bullying and other workplace problems, an August 2019 study by pelotonRPM found. The survey noted that when managers receive complaints, they fail to follow up with questions to elicit more details. Regular training for managers and supervisors is an important part of creating a harassment-resistant workplace, experts previously told HR Dive.
When complaints get reported or escalated to HR, it should take the matters seriously and follow up on accusations, conducting good-faith investigations, interviewing witnesses, documenting discussions and, if evidence of harassment is discovered, instituting measures aimed at making sure that the misconduct does not continue, Pavneet Singh Uppal and Shayna Balch, both partners at Fisher Phillips LLP, told attendees at a 2018 conference.