Monday, October 15, 2018

The 17th nominee for the “worst employer of 2018” is … the hedonistic harasser

Some call it horseplay. I call it sexual assault. And the 17th nominee for the Worst Employer of 2018.

Robert Smith worked behind the meat counter at Rosebud Farm, a small Chicago grocery store. It only took a few weeks after he started work for his male coworkers (including his direct supervisor) to start harassing him. They groped and grabbed his genital and buttocks. They reached down his pants. They repeatedly mimed oral and anal sex on him. And they did this for four years.

Smith's complaints to management not only were ignored, but they also made the harassment worse. Indeed, after Smith filed an EEOC charge, his coworkers threatened him with knives and cleavers, slashed the tires of his car, and cracked his windshield. Ultimately, he quit because of the "intolerable" working conditions.

A jury awarded Smith over $2.4 million (cut by the court to $559,656.57 because of Title VII's damage caps).

The employer's defense? That its employees "engaged in 'sexual horseplay,' not sex discrimination."

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had little trouble dismissing that argument.

Ample testimony—from both Smith and other witnesses—established that only men were groped, taunted, and otherwise tormented. Witnesses recounted the numerous times they saw men grabbing the genitals and buttocks of other men. No witness recalled seeing female Rosebud employees subjected to the same treatment. Because Smith introduced evidence that his coworkers only harassed male employees, the jury was free to conclude that these men discriminated against him on the basis of sex.

Needless to say, and regardless of the legality or illegality of the conduct, if you permit your employees to grab and grope the genitals of any employees (male or female), you might be the worst employer of 2018.