Plaintiff was denied unemployment benefits by the Employment Security Board because prior to quitting her job, she did not notify her business manager that she was being sexually harassed by her supervisor. The plaintiff appealed. Plaintiff worked as a secretary for housekeeping and maintenance. For several months during her employment, the plaintiff’s supervisor made repeated sexual advances towards her by grabbing her, kissing her, and apologizing thereafter. Plaintiff complained once, but otherwise never complained to anyone other than her supervisor, and eventually quit her job out of fear of further unwanted sexual advances. She testified that she had never received a personnel policy, never knew of the existence of such a policy, and believed that she was to complain to her immediate supervisor. Notwithstanding, the Board found the plaintiff did not show that she had “good cause” to quit her job, since her business manager had no knowledge of the harassment. Under 21 V.S.A. § 1344(a)(2)(A), a party may not receive unemployment benefits where she quits voluntarily unless she shows she quit with “good cause.” On appeal, the court found that if there were a personnel policy in effect, there was no evidence that it was ever made known or available to the defendant’s employees. The court found that the plaintiff could not adhere to a policy (to notify a manager) that is not “sufficiently disseminated by the employer to employees.” Thus, the court reversed the Board’s conclusion and remanded the matter.
Women and Justice: Court: Vermont Supreme Court
Plaintiff worked for the defendant as a police officer. During training where plaintiff was one of three women amongst twenty-four participants, plaintiff started to feel that she could never raise complaints because of her gender as a result of comments such as how the male troopers had better “watch out” or she would charge them with sexual harassment, or about another female trooper whose sex discrimination complaint had been dismissed by the Board. Plaintiff also received lewd and sexually inappropriate comments from a male officer in training who also attacked her in a kick-boxing fashion, and ridiculed her when she protested. After completing training, plaintiff was the only female full-time officer in her department and continued to experience more harassment, including exposure to openly-displayed pictures of semi-nude women, an officer telling his girlfriend that plaintiff was his sex slave, personnel and supervisors frequently discussing plaintiff’s marital difficulties, and interfering with her personal relationship with a former police officer. During the plaintiff’s first evaluation, she received a good score for her work performance but her overall score was lowered due to comments from others. Further, when it was a male colleague’s birthday, he demanded the plaintiff kiss him and when she refused, he made fun of her appearance. When plaintiff’s supervisor did not respond to her complaints regarding these incidents, she met with the Commissioner, setting forth her sexual harassment claims. She was offered an unfeasible transfer far from her home and children as the only alternative. When the plaintiff failed to report to the transfer location, she was terminated. Plaintiff subsequently filed claims for sexual harassment and hostile work environment with the Board. The Board found there was discrimination and ordered her reinstatement and reimbursement of back pay. In response to the state’s appeal, the court agreed with the Board and found that the plaintiff’s work environment, characterized by her colleagues’ and supervisor’s attitudes towards her as a woman, established that she was judged more harshly than her male colleagues. The court found the evidence supported the Board’s conclusion that there existed a hostile work environment and that the plaintiff was sexually harassed.
Here, the parties lived together for approximately six years. Following a separation, plaintiff moved out, and the parties disputed personal property ownership. On one occasion, the plaintiff went to the defendant’s house for dinner and the parties got into an argument. The plaintiff picked up the defendant’s small dog and took it with her to leave. This led to the defendant kicking the plaintiff’s car door and using physical force against the plaintiff in an attempt to recover the dog. The plaintiff obtained a temporary abuse order. At the hearing for that order to be made permanent, the defendant chased the plaintiff, grabbed her, kicked the door of her car, and hit her in the face. The defendant also began to call the plaintiff and monitor her. The family court found this warranted the plaintiff to be in fear of further harm. The defendant argued that he was justified in using force to protect his dog, as it was his personal property. The court rejected this argument and found that the common-law defense of property is irrelevant in the determination of whether a victim needs protection from abuse.