In Smith v. Rock-Tenn Services, Inc., the Sixth Circuit reminded employers that claims of sexual harassment are not just limited to victims of the opposite sex. The panel upheld an award of $300,000 based on claims of sexual harassment from a male employee about unwanted physical contact by a male co-worker. Despite his complaints, the company repeatedly sent the employee back to the same environment as the harasser, including – most unfortunately – later sending them to a health exam together. The panel focused on the company’s lack of a timely response and its failure to take written statements or create a meaningful report of the investigation. It also rejected “horseplay” and “guys being guys” defenses, noting that the harasser exposed only the men in the workplace to the unwelcome touching.
This case reminds employers to take same-sex harassment seriously, that the investigation should be well-documented, and to consider steps to avoid further harassment while the investigation is pending. A more detailed description of the facts of this case is available at our sister blog: employmentlawworldview.com.