Same-sex harassment complaints growing

Dillard’s, Inc. will pay $110,000 and provide significant remedial relief for a same-sex harassment suit in Florida, according to an announcement from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last week.

The EEOC claimed that Dillard’s violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by permitting a sexually hostile work environment for men at its Fashion Square Mall store in Orlando, Fla. The EEOC charged that a male sales associate and a young dockworker were verbally and sexually harassed by a male supervisor.

The workers accused their supervisor of exposing himself in front of them, making sexual propositions, and making sexually explicit and derogatory comments. According to the EEOC, Dillard’s store managers ignored complaints made by the workers about the harasser.

Dillard’s argued that the store wasn’t liable because the supervisor had been fired and had an anti-harassment policy in place. The court rejected that argument and “found that Dillard's anti-harassment policy could not absolve it of liability if the policy hadn’t been effectively implemented.” (Business Management Daily)

“The EEOC will hold corporate America accountable for failing to prevent and correct employment discrimination,” said Commission Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “Sexual harassment charge filings by men have trended upward over the past decade. Employers must be more vigilant in ensuring that men are not subjected to sexually hostile workplaces.”

In addition to paying $110,000 to the two male victims, the Dillard’s Fashion Square Mall store must:
  • distribute policies to the workforce on preventing sexual harassment and retaliation;
  • conduct sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training for all employees;
  • train employees who are responsible for investigating sexual harassment complaints;
  • submit to monitoring throughout the decree’s three-year duration;
  • and post a notice about the resolution of the case.

“Employers must diligently enforce policies to prevent sexual harassment and ensure that managers take same-sex harassment complaints seriously. It is vital to protect both men and women from workplace harassment,” said EEOC Miami Regional Attorney Nora Curtin.

The number of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC are up 11% from last year and at the highest rate since 2002. Sexual harassment charges filed by men make up 16% of total charges, a figure that once stood at 12% in the late 1990s.

Sexual harassment is sexual harassment no matter if it’s male-on-female, male-on-male or female-on-female. Even if the harassment doesn’t look exactly like what was taught in the training video, it should still be handled with the same sensitivity and diligence that would be given in any “normal” situation.

According to Mindy Chapman, Esq., of Mindy Chapman & Associates, in a recent Business Management Daily article, companies can learn three major lessons from this case:

  1. Train “it.” Anyone designated in your anti-harassment policy’s reporting procedures needs to know they could be tagged “it” with a complaint. Train them so they know “it.”

  2. Script “it.” The store manager should have responded by saying, “Thank you for letting me know. You are important to us at Dillard’s. I will help you immediately.” Then he should have, in the next breath, contacted the district manager.

  3. Stop “it.” The manager had an obligation that if he saw “it,” heard “it,” or heard about “it,” he should have stopped “it,” but never ignored “it."


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