- The Kansas City school district's response to an employee's report of sexual harassment was reasonable, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded (Jackson v. Kansas City Kansas Public Schools Unified School District No. 500, No. 19-3094 (10th Cir. Jan. 7, 2020)).
- Marcia Jackson sued the school district for harassment, retaliation and discrimination after she was fired over a verbal altercation with one of two co-workers, who she alleges was sexually harassing her. Although she complained about mistreatment in October 2016, she did not mention sexual harassment until after the December 2016 altercation. The school district investigated the incident, obtained written statements from four employees and determined that Jackson and the co-worker had engaged in conduct that violated school policies, and recommended they both be fired. The school district sent Jackson a letter explaining the policies that were violated and advised her of her rights to appeal the decision at a hearing.
- The district court ruled for the employer on all claims on summary judgment. The 10th Circuit affirmed, concluding that the school district did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the sexual harassment until Jackson's second complaint in December 2016 and that it responded reasonably when it got notice.
An employer is liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control, if it knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But employers that act appropriately when harassment complaints are made have a strong defense if a legal claim is made.
The Jackson court noted that, although Jackson reported bullying behavior to a supervisor in October 2016, she did not mention that the bullying was sexual until after the December 2016 altercation. Employing a standard of "whether the remedial and preventative action was reasonably calculated to end the harassment," to Jackson's December 2016 complaint, the court ruled that the school district had responded reasonably. The alleged sexual harasser was put on administrative leave immediately after the school's winter break, Jackson was placed on administrative leave to prevent further victimization, and the accused sexual harasser was fired, as well, the court said.
In a recent instance where extensive evidence of a hostile work environment was created by co-workers, the court recently held that the employer was not liable because the employer took prompt remedial action that was sufficiently calculated to stop the harassment. Within 24 hours of receiving a harassment complaint, the employer took several steps, including separating the complainant from the accused.
HR should create a reporting procedure for harassment and discrimination that starts with taking all complaints seriously regardless of whether the alleged harassment is at the hands of a supervisor or co-worker, and make sure that complaints are promptly investigated, experts have told HR Dive.