Sexual adventures in the office can get you fired. Legally. Caroline Stevens and Dr. Donald Saelinger had a romantic sexual affair. Ms. Stevens ended the affair when Dr. Saelinger would not leave his wife. Ms. Stevens complained to her employer, Saint Elizabeth Medical Center, about the pressure she was under to find another position. She told St. Elizabeth that she still wanted to work with the doctor. When the hospital investigated her complaint, they found out about the affair and that the couple had conducted some of their affair in the office. Both the doctor and Ms. Stevens were given the option of resigning or being fired. Dr. Saelinger resigned. Ms. Stevens refused and was terminated. She thereafter sued for sexual harassment, retaliatory discharge, and fraud.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ended up with the case (Stevens v. Saint Elizabeth Medical Ctr.). Ms. Steven’s claim that the pressure to take another position created a hostile work environment was unsupported by the facts. Dr. Saelinger’s texts and the physical contact may have been unsolicited following their breakup but the working environment was not filled with discriminatory intimidation nor did it unreasonably interfere with her work performance. Moreover, Ms. Stevens expressed an interest in continuing to work with Dr. Saelinger, belying her claim that these actions were considered by her to be severe or pervasive.
Additionally, there was no retaliation claim against the doctor or the hospital. Ms. Stevens’ in office sex with the doctor and the ongoing disruption of the workplace because of the relationship were legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for her firing. Dr. Saelinger himself was forced out and had no authority over her termination. She never complained of sexual harassment to the hospital and thus did not engage in protected activity