On October 1, 2007, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced that United HealthCare of Florida, Inc. agreed to pay $1.8 million to settle a same-sex harassment and retaliation suit brought by a male former employee. The lawsuit alleged that a male former vice president of key accounts subjected the male senior account executive to repeated verbal sexual harassment. After complaining several times to upper management, including the chief executive officer of United HealthCare, Inc. who failed to take remedial action, the senior account executive quit.
As part of the settlement, United HealthCare of Florida, Inc was required to (1) pay $1.8 million to the former employee in back pay, damages, and private attorney fees, (2) distribute a new anti-harassment policy in Florida, (3) train all employees and managers at the facility on federal discrimination laws including sexual harassment and retaliation, (4) post a notice of resolution of the lawsuit and (5) report to the EEOC twice annually regarding any harassment or retaliation complaints and the actions taken to resolve the complaints. The EEOC release indicates that sexual harassment claims by men have trended upward from 9% of all sexual harassment charges in fiscal year 1992 to 15% in fiscal year 2006.
According to Frank Del Barto, a member of the Firm’s Employment and Labor Group, employers should review harassment and retaliation policies to ensure that it addresses same-sex harassment. Although harassment of the opposite sex is still more prevalent, employers must address same-sex sexual harassment and ensure that supervisors and managers at all levels, to include the chief executive officer, understand (1) the nature of sexual harassment, (2) the company’s reporting procedure, and (3) the company’s commitment to prevent blatant and subtle acts of retaliation.