In Cahill v. Silva, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that harassment occurring outside of work time and away from the workplace is actionable if it affects an employee’s terms and conditions of employment or is otherwise sufficiently linked to the workplace.  This decision serves as a reminder that an employer may be found liable for its employees’ off-duty conduct.

Shortly after Daryl Cahill began working at Exodus Medical Transportation, he commenced a consensual sexual relationship with his direct supervisor, Christina Nelson.  When the relationship deteriorated, Nelson threatened to fire Cahill, which prompted him to resume the relationship for several months.  After the relationship ended a second time, Nelson vandalized Cahill’s car and told him he should stop reporting to work.  Over the ensuing weeks, Nelson left Cahill several voicemail messages detailing her plans to terminate his employment if he did not engage in sexual relations with her.  Cahill reported Nelson’s harassment to the Company’s owner, Stephen Silva, who placed Cahill on leave pending the resolution of the issues with Nelson.  Silva demoted Nelson and requested that Cahill return to work.  Cahill refused and filed suit against the Company, Silva, and Nelson, alleging quid pro quo sexual harassment. 

After a jury trial, but before jury deliberations commenced, the Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion for a directed verdict.  The case was dismissed, and Cahill appealed.

The Appeals Court found that Cahill presented sufficient evidence for a rational juror to find Nelson liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment.  Noting that a plaintiff need not make a showing as to the severity or frequency of such harassment, the Appeals Court held that sexual harassment occurring outside of the workplace is actionable so long as it is work-related.  Because Nelson’s repeated threats to terminate Cahill’s employment made a continued sexual relationship with her an implied term of Cahill’s continued employment, the Appeals Court found that a reasonable juror could have found for the plaintiff and the Superior Court had improperly removed this issue from the jury by granting a directed verdict in Nelson’s favor.  Moreover, since a reasonable juror could find Nelson liable, the Company could be found vicariously liable for her actions as a supervisor, and the directed verdict in the Company’s favor was also in error.  However, the Appeals Court found that Cahill did not present sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to conclude that Silva aided, abetted, or facilitated Nelson’s actions, affirming the directed verdict in Silva’s favor. 

The Appeals Court’s decision in Cahill serves as a reminder that the actions of supervisors outside of the workplace, including consensual relationships with subordinates, can result in liability.  Employers are well-advised to implement and strictly enforce non-fraternization policies to help guard against such liability.