- A former Wayfair employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company, claiming that her supervisor subjected her to unwanted touching and retaliated against her when she rejected his advances (Forsythe v. Wayfair, LLC, No. 1:20-cv-10002 (D. Mass. Jan. 3, 2020)).
- Emily Forsythe said that, on multiple occasions, her supervisor sat uncomfortably close to her and groped her leg. When he asked her for a date, she turned him down, saying she would meet him only for a work-related meal. After that, he allegedly told her she had "failed him as a leader" and was not a "good person." He also started badmouthing her at work, she alleged.
- Despite Forsythe's complaints to other managers about the supervisor — complaints that eventually reached HR — the harassment continued, she said. Forsythe eventually was reassigned and HR concluded that her complaints were without merit, based on the supervisor denying the allegations. Forsythe was fired two days after notifying her supervisor of her intent to file a discrimination charge.
When approached with allegations of sexual harassment or other improper conduct, it's essential that HR launch a prompt and thorough investigation, employment law attorneys say. While there is no definitive way to determine who is telling the truth in a given situation, HR should do its best to review all the evidence and reach a well-reasoned conclusion, they advise.
In this case, the plaintiff alleged that her employer merely concluded that no harassment had taken place, based on the supervisor's denials, and encouraged her to "have a conversation" with her alleged harasser about "how to improve the work relationship." Additionally, the plaintiff was fired mere days after revealing her intention to file a charge. Close timing like this, absent clear documentation of other issues, can strongly suggest illegal retaliation, attorneys say.
It's not uncommon for employees to feel their complaints are being dismissed by HR. According to a recent HR Acuity survey, 85% of employees said they know the process for reporting workplace issues, but more than a third (39%) had confidence the issues would be appropriately addressed — and almost half were concerned about possible retaliation for raising issues.
Experts say a culture of accountability is key to preventing that perspective, and that employees must know that their concerns will be taken seriously.