In a recently decided federal case (Tinoco v. Thesis Painting, Inc.), the United States District Court, for the Southern District of Maryland held that a company’s anti-discrimination policy, was “defective or dysfunctional” because it was provided to employees only in English.
In this case, a female employee claimed that she had been sexually harassed by her male coworker. The company attempted to avoid liability using the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense. Under this defense, an employer may avoid liability for co-worker harassment if the employer exercises reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing behavior, among other things. “Exercising care” can be demonstrated by implementing and distributing an effective harassment policy.
Here, the Court found that the company’s anti-discrimination policy was ineffective because it was only distributed to employees in English. The alleged harasser only spoke Spanish and did not understand any English. Therefore, he was unable to read or understand the policy. Continue reading NEW CASE: Harassment Policies Should be Provided In Multiple Languages
A court overturned a $3.5 punitive damage award because the employer had “exercised good faith” in implementing an anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policy. The court noted that the employer published these policies on an annual basis, distributed them to all new employees, and emphasized the policies with training. The fact that the employer had a clear procedure for reporting and investigating complaints also weighed heavily in the court’s decision.
The jury in Wirshing v. Banco Santander de Puerto Rico, et al awarded Plaintiff Rose Marie Wirshing $351,018.34 in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages. Plaintiff claimed that her direct supervisor sexually harassed her, and that such harassment continued despite complaints she made to Human Resources. She also alleged that following her complaint, she was subjected to a campaign of retaliation, including threats that she would lose her job. Based on the employer’s policies and reporting procedure, the Court overturned the punitive damages award.
This decision highlights the importance of implementing policies and providing a clear reporting procedure for employees.