Sexual harassment and the Rights of the Accused

Every employer should have a policy against sexual harassment. Federal and state laws prohibit this type of harassment in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean it never occurs. In some cases, the accuser has a legitimate claim against the accused. However, false accusations do occur with relative frequency. They may be a form of retaliation, or fabricated to justify the firing of an employee. If you are being investigated for sexual harassment in the workplace, a Boston employment law attorney can help you determine your rights and options.

What is Sexual Harassment?

From mild innuendos to blatant abuse, sexual harassment can take many forms. Some examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Sexual assaults: This includes everything from unwanted, intentional touching, such as grabbing, patting, and even brushing against another’s body, to outright rape.
  • Unwelcome advances of a sexual nature: Sexually-oriented comments or gestures, propositions, and jokes or remarks about another employee’s sexuality.
  • Special treatment in exchange for sexual conduct: Soliciting another employee to engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a raise, promotion, or preferential treatment.
  • Threatening unwanted sexual attention.
  • The presence of any type of sexual or discriminatory materials or publications in the workplace.
  • Retaliation for refusal of sexual advances or for complaints of sexual harassment.

What if the Accusation is False?

The short answer is, it’s complicated. If the employer disciplines the alleged victim for a false complaint and it turns out the complaint was valid, the victim can take the employer to court. For this reason, many employers submit to the knee-jerk reaction of immediately firing the accused. The accused does have a right to challenge this termination, but this right is limited. An employer also has the right to discharge an employee based on suspicion of sexual harassment, even if the suspicion turns out to be inaccurate. So most employers decide to take the easy road to protect themselves, even if they don’t fully believe the accusations. But if the employer uses a fabricated accusation to cover up an unlawful reason for discharge, the employer may be liable. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been falsely accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Mackenzie v. Miller Brewing Company

Take the following high-profile case from Wisconsin; in Mackenzie v. Miller Brewing Company, a male manager and female co-worker were discussing the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry’s date’s name rhymed with a body part. When the male manager explained that her name was Dolores, the co-worker didn’t get the joke. What body part? In response, the male manager showed her the body part in an anatomically-correct book. She claimed to be offended, and went directly to the supervisor. The manager was fired two hours later.

It was determined in court that the co-worker was not actually offended by the discussion; in fact, she had made even more graphic references in the workplace. Rather, the court believed the co-worker had complained about the manager because she didn’t want to report to him once his upcoming promotion shifted their roles. As a result of these findings, the jury awarded a large verdict to the accused.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Top Employment Law Firm

If you are being investigated for sexual harassment in the workplace, the skilled employment law team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of MA workers for more than 50 years. Our experienced attorneys will fight tirelessly to protect your rights and reputation. Don’t make the mistake of hiring the wrong lawyer. If you have been accused of workplace harassment, we can help. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.

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