COURT HOLDS THAT BOSS TOUCHING SUBORDINATE'S SHOULDER WAS NOT SEVERE AND PERVASIVE HARASSMENT
March 4, 2014
While driving the female employee to her hotel, the male supervisor put his hand on her shoulder for about a minute and subtly suggested that she "owed him" for hiring her. Unsurprisingly, the Court ruled that this conduct was inappropriate (although, she didn't bring this to anyone's attention until after serious performance problems were uncovered). However, the Court determined that, although the supervisor made the female employee uncomfortable, the conduct was neither physically threatening nor frequent and thus did not rise to the "severe and pervasive" level required for sexual harassment claims under Title VII.
This case is helpful to employers as it reaffirms that courts will not allow employees to prevail on harassment claims just because they experience some "discomfort" at work. The case also serves as a good reminder that, despite the presence of a policy, some of your employees may not understand (and others may not care to understand) that there are lines you may not cross when interacting with others, especially at work. Therefore, you want to be sure that your policies are up-to-date; that your reporting procedures are clear; that all employees are periodically reminded of the importance of reporting concerns; and that your supervisors are trained and are given a clear sense of where the lines are that they may not cross. When allegations like those presented in the Ponte case are made in your workplace, you also want to be able to demonstrate that you dealt with the situation swiftly.