- United Airlines has agreed to pay $321,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suit alleging a pilot posted sexually explicit images of a flight attendant to websites for years without her consent. The posts included the flight attendant's name, home airport and the airline's "Fly the Friendly Skies" tagline. EEOC said the images were seen by the woman's co-workers and potential passengers, thus "causing her humiliation and embarrassment and adversely affecting her work environment."
- United failed to prevent and correct the pilot's behavior, even though the flight attendant complained several times and provided evidence of the pilot's conduct, EEOC alleged. The Commission said the airline allowed the man to retire with benefits despite his facing criminal charges under federal internet stalking laws.
- In addition to the payment, United agreed to provide notice to employees of their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and revise its sexual harassment policy to prohibit employees from engaging in online harassment. United did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
These claims highlight employer accountability for harassment in the modern workplace, Robert A. Canino, an EEOC regional attorney, said in the statement announcing the settlement. EEOC Trial Attorney Philip Moss noted that employers have an obligation to be diligent in preventing and correcting sexual harassment, whether the conduct takes place in the workplace or involves misconduct on the internet that affects the work environment.
"Employers must not ignore harassment complaints simply because the harasser holds a position of authority," an EEOC supervisory attorney, Eduardo Juarez, also said. If the supervisor's harassment results in a hostile work environment, the employer can avoid liability only if it can prove that: it tried to prevent and correct the behavior; and the employee "failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer," EEOC has said.
Experts have suggested that when workers come to a supervisor or HR with a complaint, it should be handled with care and efficiency. It follows that those in leadership should receive training on how to field complaints. Employers should hold anti-harassment trainings at least once a year, with separate sessions for employees and managers, Constangy Brooks, Smith & Prophete Partner Robin Shea previously told HR Dive. With yearly training, employees will know what to expect and those in leadership will understand the standards to which they and their employees will be held. A key accompaniment to training is a fail-safe, standardized reporting process, Shea noted.
On the occasions when HR must investigate a complaint, it's important that the investigation is conducted in "good faith," attorneys have said. This requires that HR conduct interviews, hear out the accusers and the accused and make a decision and implement a solution, including appropriate discipline, while documenting the process.