As new high profile sexual harassment claims seem to crop up in the news on a daily basis, many employers are taking a second look at their own workplace anti-sexual harassment policies.
An ineffective anti-sexual harassment policy will not go very far to protect business owners from their employees’ bad behavior. Additionally, even the most effective law-based anti-harassment policy is essentially just words, if it is not consistently promoted and enforced.
So how do New Jersey employers know if their policies against harassment are strong enough to prevent a hostile workplace lawsuit? A 2002 landmark New Jersey Supreme Court decision helps to clarify this issue.
One Landmark Case
In Gaines v. Bellino, a corrections officer working at Hudson County Jail claimed she was sexually harassed by her supervisor. After repeated incidents over the course of several years, her boss confronted her and told her he would no longer harass her.
However, the officer claims the verbal harassment continued, culminating when her supervisor discussed the possibility of he and another officer raping her. Although the officer spoke with her warden regarding these allegations, she declined to file a formal complaint out of fear of retaliation. In return, the warden issued both employees “cease and desist” letters, a standard practice after sexual harassment allegations.
Finally, in 1996 the Hudson County Director of Personnel opened an investigation into the female officer’s allegations. They found the supervisor acted inappropriately, but recommended dropping the charges because he had an otherwise clean disciplinary record. The supervisor was eventually suspended without pay for 30 days and retired soon after.
Action Leading to the State Supreme Court
The accusing officer sued her supervisor and Hudson County, among others, for violating New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and allowing a hostile work environment. The County argued that it promoted anti-harassment policies and held the supervisor in question accountable.
The trial court granted the County summary judgement and the Appellate Division upheld this decision.
However, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the judgment, on the basis that jail employees did not receive adequate sexual harassment training and the jail lacked effective “sensing or monitoring mechanisms.” Even after the accuser mentioned her concerns to higher-ups at the jail, she was still vulnerable to retaliation from her harasser.
The Court viewed her hesitation to file a complaint as a sign that she lacked confidence in her employer’s anti-harassment policies. They found that the officer met the threshold to defeat the summary judgement.
Middletown Sexual Harassment Lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. Help Employers Create Anti-Harassment Guidelines
This case shows that even with an anti-harassment policy on the books, an employer is not protected unless this policy is promoted and enforced at every level. Middletown sexual harassment lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. work with business owners to create and enforce anti-harassment guidelines that protect workers, promote a healthy work environment, and prevent costly litigation.
Call 732-842-6500 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout the state of New Jersey from our offices located in Marlton and Red Bank, and serve clients in Burlington County, Camden County, and Monmouth County.