Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

2007 (A) No. 520 Supreme Court of Japan (2007)

Sexual harassment

The defendant was indicted under the Stalker Regulation Law on a charge of stalking his former girlfriend by sending two rose bouquets and five letters. The defendant argued that the Stalker Regulation Law is unconstitutional because it infringes a “right to fulfill romantic feelings”. The Supreme Court rejected the defendant’s argument opining that even if a right to fulfill romantic feelings were to exist, the purpose of the Stalker Regulation Law is legitimate and its contents are reasonable.

Hercules P. Guzman v. National Labor Relations Commission, et al. Supreme Court of Philippines (2010)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual harassment

The respondent, a law student, filed an administrative complaint for harassment against the petitioner, her professor, alleging that she was given a poor final grade because he wanted to go on a date with her. A school committee found that the petitioner improperly conducted school-related activities outside school premises, indicative of sexually motivated intentions, in violation of the respondent’s policy of providing its students with an environment free from sexual harassment. The NLRC affirmed, declaring a one year suspension from the University. The Supreme Court rejected the petitioner’s argument that his constitutional right to due process was violated, finding that in administrative proceedings, the essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard, to explain one’s side or to seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of, and that the petitioner had been afforded that opportunity.

M v. M High Court of New Zealand (2005)

Sexual violence and rape, Domestic and intimate partner violence

This case concerns the Domestic Violence Act of 1995. Appellant sent emails, faxes, and oral communications to politicians and others, claiming that the respondent, her brother, raped her when she was 11. In Family Court, the judge concluded that the allegation of rape was unfounded and that appellant’s purpose for the communications was to shame the respondent and ruin his reputation, amounting to harassment or psychological abuse. The judge issued a protection order pursuant to the Domestic Violence Act of 1995, prohibiting appellant from further communications alleging the rape. On appeal, it was contended that, 1) the family court judge wrongly found that appellant’s behavior constituted psychological abuse or harassment, and 2) that the special conditions imposed in the protection order were unduly broad, infringing upon the appellant’s freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA). The High Court rejected the first ground of appeal. As to the second, the High Court read the Domestic Violence Act narrowly, saying that the legislature could not have intended to pass a bill that would conflict with the NZBORA. The High Court would modify the Family Court Judge’s protection order only to qualify that appellant is not precluded from discussing the matter with other family members, attorneys, or law enforcement, thereby preserving her rights under NZBORA. The High Court also approved a Constitutional Court holding that the right of freedom of expression extends to a woman’s right to use her own name in connection with her status as a victim of sexual abuse.

State of Rajasthan v. Jaggu Ram Supreme Court of India (2008)

Dowry-related violence

A new bride was threatened by her in-laws if her family did not provide a greater dowry. When local villagers protested these threats, the husband’s family killed his new bride by burning her with kerosene. The main issue of the case was to determine how the elements of dowry-death should be proven at trial under amended Indian Penal Code. The trial court acquitted the defendant of dowry-death in taking a narrow statutory view. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a death shall be called dowry-death when a woman dies from burns or bodily injury that would not occur under normal circumstances within seven years of marriage. The Court added it should be in consideration that soon before her death the woman was subject to harassment by her husband or any relative of his or in connection with any demand for dowry. Shifting this burden to the husband’s family and broadening the scope of dowry death provides prosecutors with more powerful tools to convict for dowry-death and is meant to curb the recent rise in dowry-related violence.

Littell v. Allstate Ins. Co. New Mexico Court of Appeals (2007)

Sexual harassment

Littell worked as a paralegal for Allstate in 1996. Aakhus, Littell’s supervisor, regularly told demeaning jokes, touched women inappropriately, commented about other employees’ sexual preferences, and tolerated similar behaviors by other coworkers. After Littell anonymously reported Aakhus to Allstate headquarters, Aakhus started to belittle her in public, disciplined her for pretextual reasons, and became more aggressive in general. Littell eventually left her job after Aakhus denied her leave to deal with a “family crisis.” Aakhus was discharged after Littell left Allstate. Littell subsequently sued Allstate, alleging, among other things, sexual harassment and retaliatory discharge. The jury reached a verdict in favor of Littell, awarding her $360,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Allstate appealed.

Ocana v. Am. Furniture Co. New Mexico Supreme Court (2004)

Sexual harassment

Ocana worked for the Santa Fe store of the American Furniture Co. (“AFC”) from July, 1997 to November 1998.On January 10, 2000, Ocana, acting pro se, filed a complaint in a trial court, charging AFC with, among other things, sexual harassment in violation of the NMHRA.In particular, Ocana claimed that the store manager touched himself in suggestive ways, stared at her breasts, and parked next to her even when he had a different, dedicated parking spot.AFC moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of AFC, reasoning that “there was no evidence corroborating Ocana’s claims of sexual harassment; there were no witnesses and no evidence that she complained about the harassment until after she was fired; and she had been disciplined for as many as 14 major mistakes.”Ocana appealed.The Supreme Court of New Mexico reversed, holding that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on employee’s sexual harassment claims under the New Mexico Human Rights Act (“NMHRA”).

In re Schwartz New Mexico Supreme Court (2011)

Sexual harassment

This is a proceeding for the disciplining of Schwartz, a trial court judge. Judge Robert Schwartz initiated a romantic relationship with an assistant public defender with cases before him. The assistant public defender informed her supervisor of Judge Schwartz’s planned recusal via a voice message. In the following days, Judge Schwartz provided dishonest reasons for his recusal from some cases involving the assistant public defender, and entered rulings in some other cases involving the assistant public defender.

Werth v. Empl. Dep't. Oregon Court of Appeals (2010)

Sexual harassment

Here, claimant sought judicial review of an order of the Employment Appeals Board that denied her claim for unemployment insurance benefits after finding that claimant failed to establish that her belief that further stalking by a fellow employee would occur was reasonable. Claimant argued that the Appeals Board erred in concluding that she quit her job without good cause after being stalked by a co-worker for several months. Under ORS 657.176(12), an individual could not be disqualified from receiving benefits under subsection (2)(c) if: (a) [t]he individual is a victim, or is the parent or guardian of a minor child who is a victim, of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault; (b) [t]he individual leaves work . . . to protect the individual or the minor child from further domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault that the individual reasonably believes will occur at the workplace or elsewhere.” The Court of Appeals of Oregon reversed and remanded for further proceedings, finding that claimant’s belief that further stalking would occur was reasonable, in light of her stalker ignoring warnings from the police to leave claimant alone, disregarding some of the restrictions that employer instituted after the first temporary stalking protective order (SPO) was issued and in light of his conduct escalating and becoming increasingly alarming.

Kanzler v. Renner Wyoming Supreme Court (1997)

Sexual harassment

Appellant, a former dispatcher with the Cheyenne Police Department, appealed from the summary judgment which was entered in favor of police officer-appellee, also employed by the Cheyenne Police Department, on appellant’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Wyoming Supreme Court reversed, because as a matter of law, appellant presented sufficient evidence in support of her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, based on inappropriate sexual conduct by a co-employee in the workplace, to survive appellee’s motion for summary judgment. The court identified several recurring factors that could be used in determining whether particular conduct in the workplace is sufficiently outrageous to survive a preliminary motion: (1) abuse of power; (2) repeated incidents and/or pattern of harassment; (3) unwelcome touching and/or offensive, non-negligible physical contact; and (4) retaliation for refusing or reporting sexually-motivated advances. The court found that conditions and circumstances alleged by appellant, including repeated incidents over a period of time and offensive, non-negligible physical contact, could lead a jury to construe appellee’s conduct as outrageous. Furthermore, appellant’s evidence was sufficient to create a jury issue on the severity of her emotional distress.

Ramsdell v. Western Mass. Bus Lines, Inc. Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (1993)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

Here, a female employee appealed the decision of the Commission Against Discrimination which dismissed her complaint against her employer for sexual discrimination. The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. Under Gen .L. C. 151B, §4(1) (1990), employment discrimination on the basis of gender is prohibited. The Massachusetts Code defines sexual harassment as “sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when (a) submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decisions; (b) such advances, requests or conduct have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment.” Gen. L. C. 151B, §1(18) (1990).

Lehmann v. Toys R Us New Jersey Supreme Court (1993)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff was employed by defendant as a file clerk and subsequently promoted to supervisory positions. Sometime thereafter, defendant hired a new supervisor to the plaintiff. This supervisor started sexually harassing female employees, including plaintiff, through offensive sexual comments and touching. Although plaintiff immediately reported incidents to the supervisor’s boss, she was told to handle the matter herself. Upon continuing to bring incidents to the attention of the manager, plaintiff was told that she was being paranoid. Eventually plaintiff addresses the executive vice president, expressed that she felt she was being forced out of the company, and when she was offered an undesirable transfer as a solution, offered her resignation. The plaintiff sued the defendant for hostile work environment, arguing that its investigation into the harassment was inadequate. To bring a claim for hostile work environment, the plaintiff needed to show: (1) the conduct would not have occurred but for the employee’s gender; (2) the conduct was severe or pervasive enough to make a (3) reasonable woman believe (4) that the conditions of employment are altered and the working environment is hostile or abusive. The court found that even though the defendant had a written policy against sexual harassment, the manager did not keep any records about the investigation, did not document the investigation, and did not question key witnesses about events. The court found that this enabled a hostile work environment, and held the defendant liable.

College-Town, Div. of Interco, Inc. v. Mass. Comm’n Against Discrimination Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (1987)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Here, an employer appealed the superior court’s decision that it discriminated against an employee on the basis of sex. A few weeks after College-Town hired the employee, Rizzi, Rizzi’s supervisor began making sexually suggestive comments to her. Once he touched her back, and another time he put his hand over a slit in her dress and told her to fix her skirt. On one occasion, Rizzi asked her supervisor to review her performance in a meeting and he told her that she handled it well and that he “liked the way [her] tits stood out in the red shirt.” Once, he asked her if she was a good f----. Rizzi then spoke to the director of manufacturing, who told her he was “not qualified to go into these things,” and refused to talk to her. Rizzi had to wait several days before she could tell someone else at work. A College-Town executive finally spoke with the supervisor about the allegations, which were denied. A meeting was held to determine the truth of the allegations, which the supervisor and all other women in the department attended except for Rizzi. She was not asked to the meeting or notified of its occurrence. At the meeting, the supervisor explained the allegations and Rizzi’s co-workers were generally supportive of the supervisor. College-Town made no further investigation. Prior to that meeting, Rizzi sought a promotion to a position in another department. After the meeting was held, Rizzi was informed she was not qualified for the promotion and College-Town hired someone with more knowledge and experience. Soon thereafter, College-Town attempted to transfer Rizzi as tension in the office was affecting productivity and she declined. Rizzi was never told the transfer was mandatory, and within weeks of her denial, she was discharged. The trial court found that College-Town’s supervisor created a sexually harassing work environment, it failed to remedy the situation, and it retaliated against the employee in its attempt to transfer her and discharge her once she declined the transfer. Id. at 158. The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed the decision and found that sexual harassment may constitute discrimination under Gen. L. C. 151B, §4(1), which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender.

In re Piatt Arizona Supreme Court (1997)

Sexual harassment

In May of 1990, Piatt represented clients A and B in their respective domestic relations actions. During his representation of client A, Piatt repeatedly asked her questions such as whether she had masturbated at the age of fourteen, and whether she had ever had sexual relationship without emotional involvement. He also made comments about the length of client A’s skirt and how “delicious” she looked. Piatt later told client A during a meeting that if she did not respond to his sexual advances, he would be forced to charge her a large sum of money for continued representation. Piatt threatened client B in substantially the same way.

Ford v. Revlon, Inc. Arizona Supreme Court (1987)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff Ford’s supervisor, Karl Braun, began to sexually harass Ford at a dinner on April 3, 1980, where Braun told Ford that she would regret it if she didn’t sleep with him. At a company picnic a month later, Braun said to Ford: “I want to fuck you, Leta,” and restrained her in a chokehold, from which Ford eventually escaped. Despite Ford having reported the harassment to regional management later than month and to headquarters in November, 1980, no action was taken until Braun’s employment was terminated in October, 1981, almost a year and a half after plaintiff’s original complaints. During this period Braun’s continuing threats led to Ford developing symptoms of emotional stress such as high blood pressure and chest pains.

Miller v. State, Dep't of Public Safety Delaware Superior Court (2011)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff alleged that her superior violated the Department of Public Safety’s sexual harassment policy to attempt to pursue a sexual relationship with her. At various times during plaintiff’s employment, her superior had allegedly engaged in sexually harassing behavior towards her. At a later date when plaintiff had received poor performance reviews, claimed that her supervisor made her believe he could save her job if internal investigations against her concerning the reviews did not go well. With this indication, the supervisor made sexual advances towards the plaintiff, who felt pressured into submitting to these advances for fear of losing her job. The court noted that Delaware courts have not yet adopted federal tests to determine a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim. However, it noted that based upon the Supreme Court’s interpretation, “[u]nwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes quid pro quo sexual harassment when ‘(1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual’.” The court noted that under this test, the consequences of a rejection to such advances or requests must “be sufficiently severe as to alter the harassed employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.” The court found that the plaintiff pleaded a qui pro quo claim of sexual harassment against the defendant.

Schuster v. Derocili Delaware Superior Court (2001)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

Here, the plaintiff was an at-will employee whose contract could be terminated by either party giving thirty days written notice. The plaintiff mainly worked for the defendant, who was the president and controlling shareholder of the company. The plaintiff alleged the defendant made sexual comments and advances towards her a few weeks after she commenced work and also touched her inappropriately. The plaintiff told the defendant his behavior made her uncomfortable but he did not stop. Subsequently, the plaintiff began recording the defendant’s conduct in a journal and rejecting his advances more forcefully. The defendant subsequently fired the plaintiff for substandard job performance. Under 19 Del. C. § 711, an employer may not discriminate against an employee based upon gender. The defendant argued that there could be no common law cause of action for employment discrimination because there was already a statutory scheme, and the plaintiff was required to abide by the specific procedures of that statute to bring such a claim. Specifically, the defendant argued that judicial review is only available after the Delaware Department of Labor Review Board hears the matter. Plaintiff based her theory on a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing derived from the employment contract and as such, her claim did not arise directly from § 711. The court found that the plaintiff had a common law cause of action and she could bring her claim.

Richardson's Market v. Covais Delaware Superior Court (1995)

Sexual harassment

Here, the defendant employer appealed the Board’s decision that the plaintiff had good cause to walk away from her employment as she was sexually harassed and her employer failed to rectify the situation. The son of the defendant-business owner and the defendant’s manager sexually harassed the plaintiff in a verbal and physical nature. The plaintiff tried to discuss the situation with the business owner but the harassment continued. Further, she was advised by the owner that all managerial responsibilities were given to his son and that the plaintiff would have to work it out with the son. The plaintiff attempted to discuss the situation again with the owner but after waiting for fifteen or twenty minutes, she left and quit without being able to speak to him. The plaintiff sued for hostile work environment, and the court found the defendant was liable. The employer appealed, arguing that the plaintiff did not make a reasonable effort to inform it about the hostile working environment and remedy the situation. The court disagreed and affirmed the Board’s decision.

Watt v. UniFirst Corp. Maine Supreme Court (2009)

Sexual harassment

After commencing her employment, plaintiff agreed to prepare lunches for a new co-worker in exchange for $25 a week. Plaintiff later stopped providing lunches to the co-worker who in return, became hostile towards her, commencing a pattern of sexual harassment, including lewd comments, uninvited sexual advances, and interference with her ability to work. In keeping with company policy, plaintiff addressed complaints to her supervisor. Although the supervisor met with the co-worker and issued warnings, the harassment continued. Eventually the general manager suspended the co-worker and changed his duties so he would not be working near the plaintiff. When he returned, however, the co-worker continued to harass plaintiff. Eventually, there was an incident where the two got into a physical altercation, for which both were suspended. The plaintiff sued the defendant for failing to remedy the situation and for a hostile work environment. The court found that an employer may be liable for the sexual harassment of an employee by a co-worker under a hostile environment claim if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate steps to correct it. The court noted that in determining whether a work environment is hostile, a court should consider the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, if it is physically threatening or humiliating as opposed to a mere offensive utterance, and if it reasonably interferes with the plaintiff’s work. The court then concluded that a jury could conclude that the defendant’s response to the harassment was neither immediate nor appropriate. Specifically, the three-day suspension and warnings were insufficient given the pattern of harassment. Thus, the court vacated the trial court’s issuance of summary judgment to the defendant and remanded the case.

Frieler v. Carlson Mktg. Group, Inc. Minnesota Supreme Court (2008)

Sexual harassment

Here, the appellant, Judy Frieler, sued the respondent for violating § 363A.03(43) and § 363A.08(2) of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), “based on a hostile working environment due to sexual harassment by a supervisor.” Ms. Frieler worked part-time and was interested in a full-time position in the shipping department. She expressed her interest and was referred to Ed Janiak, the supervisor of that department. Ms. Frieler alleged that Janiak had verbally abused her and on three to four occasions lured her into a locked room, pressed himself against her and made sexual advances towards her. Ms. Frieler reported the incident to her employer (respondent) but before a full investigation could take place, Janiak resigned from his position. Janiak was made aware of the allegations just a few days before his resignation, and he denied them. Ms. Frieler subsequently sued her employer under § 363A.03(43) and § 363A.08(2). The trial court and court of appeals dismissed her sexual harassment claims for failing to raise an issue of material fact as to whether the employer knew about the harassment and whether Janiak was Ms. Frieler’s supervisor for vicarious liability purposes. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed and remanded the court of appeals’ ruling. The court held that: 1) a plaintiff does not need to prove that his or her employer knew about the harassment in order to maintain a claim under the MHRA; 2) employers are not strictly liable for sexual harassment claims; 3) “an employer is subject to vicarious liability for an actionable hostile environment created by a supervisor with immediate authority over a victimized employee;” and 4) in this case, there was a material issue of fact whether Janiak was Ms. Friedler’s supervisor at the time of the harassment.

Lacey v. State Nebraska Supreme Court (2009)

Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Lacey worked at the Department of Correctional Services as a temporary employee. Lacey’s supervisor was known for “creating a fun atmosphere” by “giving each other a hard time in a joking manner.” The supervisor’s jokes and questions were often sexual in nature, including inquiring Lacey about the frequency, locations, and types of sex she and her boyfriend had. Towards the end of Lacey’s temporary placement, the jokes and questions were made daily and became increasingly vulgar. Supervisor also subjected Lacey to unwanted touching. Lacey eventually complained and the supervisor was ordered to stay away from here. Soon after, Lacey was terminated under questionable circumstances. Lacey filed a complaint against the Department of Correctional Services on June 7, 2006, alleging, among other things, sexual harassment in violations of the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act (NFERA). The trial court awarded Lacey $60,000 in damages for her sexual harassment claim. The State appealed.

Lowery v. Klemm Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (2006)

Sexual harassment

Here, the plaintiff volunteered at a swap shop operated by the Town of Falmouth at its waste management facility. The defendant was the land supervisor and gatekeeper of the facility. The defendant often visited the shop and made sexual advances toward the plaintiff for three years, despite her requests that he leave her alone. The town subsequently terminated the plaintiff’s volunteer services and barred her from the facility. Id. at 572. The plaintiff sued the defendant for sexual harassment in violation of M.G.L.A. 214 § 1C. The court found that M.G.L.A. 214 § 1C states that “[a] person shall have the right to be free from sexual harassment, as defined in chapter 151B and 151C.” Id. at 577. The court then noted that the definition of sexual harassment in G. L. C. 151B and 151c does not explicitly protect volunteers from sexual harassment and instead limit conduct to academic and employment contexts. The court thus found that there is only statutory protection against sexual harassment in employment and academic contexts and there was no such protection for volunteers. Id. However, persons outside of this context, including volunteers, may pursue common law claims of sexual harassment. Id. at 580-81.

Gaines v. Bellino New Jersey Supreme Court (2002)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff worked the midnight shift in a prison. One night another officer kissed her without any invitation and subsequently repeatedly referred to the incident, and made intimidating jokes about raping the plaintiff. Despite being made aware of these incidents, plaintiff’s superiors did not take any action. It was almost two years before the warden responded to plaintiff’s attempts to talk to him about the harassment, at which time plaintiff refused to file a complaint in fear for her safety. The warden later advised her again to file a complaint and issued a cease and desist letter to the officer. Eventually, the County filed disciplinary charges against the officer but dismissed the charges. Plaintiff eventually brought a lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment. Although the County had an anti-sexual harassment policy, numerous employees testified that they were never trained on the policy, and the plaintiff testified that the policy was loosely enforced. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, reasoning that the fact that an individual violates a policy does not render the policy wrong. The Appellate Division affirmed. The plaintiff appealed the Appellate Division decision, contending that in determining employer liability for sexual harassment, the court was required to consider (1) whether the company had mandatory training for supervisors and managers which is offered to all members of the company; and (2) effective sensing or monitoring systems to check the trustworthiness of the prevention and remedial structures for employees. The court agreed with the plaintiff; even though the policy was known to many high-ranking officials, no action was taken to address the plaintiff’s complaints, even if they were not “formal” complaints. The court found that summary judgment was improper because there were questions of fact as to the adequacy of the policy.

Brett v. Berkowitz Supreme Court of Delaware (1998)

Sexual harassment

Here, the plaintiff sued her former attorney for sexual misconduct and malpractice. Under 11 Del. C. § 601, there are criminal penalties for sexual harassment. The statute does not explicitly provide for a private right of action. Further, the plaintiff did not bring her cause of action under this statute, and instead, claimed she could bring a common law cause of action for sexual harassment. The court held that the plaintiff did not have a private cause of action under § 601; in other words, she could not bring common law private claims under that section for sexual harassment. Id. at 512-13

Konstantopoulos v. Westvaco Corp. Supreme Court of Delaware (1996)

Sexual harassment

Here, the plaintiff sued her former employer for allowing her to be subjected to sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and sexual assault by her co-workers. The plaintiff claimed that her co-workers made sexual comments and engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior, but that she was not physically injured by the conduct. She also had no prior or subsequent contact with her co-workers outside of work. Id. at 938. The plaintiff complained to her supervisors but nothing was ever done to rectify the situation. The plaintiff subsequently elected to take a layoff from her job once the harassment continued. The defendant argued that the plaintiff had no common law right of action because any of these claims were encompassed by the Delaware Workmen’s Compensation Act (19 Del. C. § 2301). Under this Act, a plaintiff’s compensation for personal injuries is limited to compensation that is provided in the Act. The court agreed with the defendant and found that the Act did not exclude acts of a sexual nature that occurred at work, and that the plaintiff could not bring a private cause of action for sexual harassment. Id. at 939-40. Thus, any action for sexual harassment would have to be brought pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 2301.

Raya & Haig Hair Salon v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (2007)

Sexual harassment

Aida Armani worked as a hairstylist at Raya and Haig Hair Salon. One of her customers, Kadyshes, began verbally and physically sexually harassing Aida by telling sexual jokes, commenting on her breasts, telling her she would be good in bed, and touching her rear and shoulders. The Salon eventually hired Kadyshes as a business manager, and he became Aida’s direct supervisor. Aida complained on at least six occasions but no action was taken to stop Kadyshes’s conduct. Eventually Aida decided to open her own salon but before she could resign the Hair Salon learned of her plans and fired her. The Commission found that the Salon unlawfully discriminated against her by subjecting her to a hostile work environment and constructively discharging her because of her sex. The Salon challenged the decision on multiple grounds. First, it argued that Aida was not discharged because of her sex but because she opened her own salon. The court found that Aida established a prima facie claim for hostile work environment and that the evidence supported the conclusion that the Hair Salon violated the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act by allowing the existence of a hostile work environment. In order to establish a prima facie claim for hostile work environment, a complainant must prove that she (1) suffered intentional discrimination because of her race or gender; (2) the harassment was severe or persuasive and regular; (3) the harassment detrimentally affected the complainant; (4) the harassment would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same protected class; and (5) the harasser was a supervisory employee or agent. Constructive discharge occurs when an employer knowingly permits conditions of discrimination in employment so intolerable that a reasonable person subject to them would resign. The fact that Aida stayed at her job did not preclude a finding of constructive discharge—she was the sole source of income for her family and she endured the treatment as long as she could take it. Second, the Salon argued that it was improper to admit testimony about Aida’s work conditions that predated the time frame for which she alleged discrimination. But the entire scope of a hostile work environment claim is permissible for assessing liability, including behavior alleged outside the statutory time period. Third, the Salon challenged the determination that Aida attempted to mitigate her damages. While a plaintiff has a duty to mitigate her damages, the burden of showing that she did not exercise reasonable diligence in seeking comparable employment lies with the employer. Aida’s self-employment constituted mitigation because she took immediate steps to open her salon after she was fired.

Mescanti v. Mescanti Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual harassment

William and Elizabeth Mecanti were married with children. William subjected Elizabeth to a pattern of harassment that lasted months. The couple had been experiencing marital difficulties and Elizabeth had been sleeping on the couch. She slept during the daytime because she worked the night shift. William would come home from work and wake her up to argue and instigate fights. He hacked into Elizabeth’s emails and looked through her pockets, cell phone logs, purses, and car. He would follow her when she was out with friends. He wrote her pages expressing his love, his fear of losing her, and his wish to stay together forever. On one occasion William hid her house and car keys and locked her out of the house; when she was finally able to reenter the house, Elizabeth discovered that he had disconnected the telephone lines. Elizabeth sought a protection from abuse (“PFA”) order after an incident when William wanted her to sleep with him in their bedroom, even though she had told him she wanted a divorce and they had been sleeping apart for three years. When she refused to follow him to the bedroom, William told her “this is going to get ugly” and “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” Then he left the house. Elizabeth went to sleep on the couch and woke up when William returned home and turned on the television. She asked him to turn it off but he refused; after some argument he stormed out of the room after saying “you better not go to sleep. You better not even close your eyes.” Elizabeth heard a noise like the cocking of a gun (William kept guns in the house) so she called the police. After this incident she sought the order of protection, which was granted. She had not filed for divorce because she was afraid of what William might do. On appeal, William argued that the PFA should not have issued because his threats were indirect and Elizabeth never testified to a past occasion when he threatened her as he did the night of the incident. The court considered the pattern of harassment as a whole, including Elizabeth’s testimony that she had heard William cock guns in the past, and concluded that that his behavior established “abuse” under the statute.

Frazier v. Badger South Carolina Supreme Court (2004)

Sexual harassment

Frazier, a middle school teacher, alleged that Badger, the assistant principal, sexually harassed her. When she rejected his advances, he allegedly had her classroom moved to the basement. The jury found that Badger’s conduct met the elements of the tort of outrage and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court, in assessing the new issues brought before it, held that Badger did not get to claim governmental immunity. Under South Carolina law, governmental immunity would be provided to a governmental employee who commits a tort while acting in the scope of his official duty. The court held that sexual advances do not fall within the scope of official duties. It looked at the phrase “scope of employment,” used in insurance policies, and found that it had previously concluded that 13 is not within the “scope of employment.” Since “scope of official duties” is a phrase construed more narrowly than “scope of employment,” it concluded that 13 could not fall under the “scope of official duties.” The court found that Frazier’s testimony that Badger began making sexual advances towards her years before, when he was her high school basketball coach, did not warrant a mistrial. The court also held that Frazier did not have to file a 13 claim; it was permissible to file an outrage claim. The court rejected Badger’s argument that the Court of Appeals erred in upholding the jury’s punitive damage award, noting that “a defendant’s inability to pay does not prohibit a jury from awarding punitive damages.”

Parker v. Warren County Util. Dist. Tennessee Supreme Court (2009)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff Parker alleged that defendant Grissom, a general manager who hired her as a bookkeeper, sexually harassed her. She reported the harassment to her immediate supervisor, Link. Parker stated that she feared losing her job if she did anything, so asked that Link do nothing. The harassment continued, and Link reported it to Vinson, a member of the Utility’s Board of Commissioners. Vinson agreed that plaintiff would likely lose her job if she reported the harassment. Plaintiff later discussed the issue with Vinson, who did not assure her that she would not lose her job. Grissom voluntarily resigned in April of 1994 but was rehired in the fall, despite the fact that plaintiff notified the board of the alleged harassment. The board rehired him, but also retained counsel to conduct an independent investigation of his alleged harassment. Plaintiff filed several claims; the remaining hostile work environment/13 claim before the Court was against the Utility District under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The Utility District filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that “it took prompt corrective action in response to plaintiff’s complaints and that the corrective action was ‘a complete defense’ to a claim for 13.” An employer has an affirmative defense to a hostile work environment claim based on 13 by a supervisor if the employer can show: (1) that employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior, and (2) employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by employer or that employee unreasonably failed to otherwise avoid the harm. The court held that Parker’s supervisor could be held vicariously liable for her hostile work environment 13 claim. There was no evidence that the District exercised reasonable care to prevent the alleged harassment, and that there was no evidence of a written anti-discrimination policy given to employees to deal with the circumstances of the case. It reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the employer, and modified a previous decision, Carr v. United Parcel Service, 955 S.W.2d 832, according to which a supervisor could be vicariously liable only for quid pro quo, and not hostile work environment 13 claims. The court modified Carr to “reflect the recently articulated standard for supervisor harassment adopted by the United States Supreme Court.”

Mitchem v. Counts Supreme Court of Virginia (2000)

Sexual harassment

Mitchem filed a motion for judgment against her former employer, Counts, alleging wrongful discharge in violation of the common law following her refusal to have a sexual relationship with him, as well as several instances of 13. She argued that her discharge violated Virginia’s policy “that all persons . . . are entitled to pursue and maintain employment free of discrimination based upon gender.” The trial court held that the amendments to the Virginia Human Rights Act “eliminated the VHRA as a source of public policy to support a common law cause of action for wrongful termination. The trial court also held that Code §§ 18.2-57, -344 and -345 do not articulate public policies that support a common law action for wrongful termination. The court dismissed Mitchem’s action with prejudice, and Mitchem appealed from this judgment. On appeal, Mitchem withdrew parts of her previous claim, arguing that she was discharged from employment due, not to gender but rather, to the fact that she would not consent to her employer’s demands that she violate sections of the Virginia code prohibiting fornication, lewd and lascivious cohabitation, and was discharged for failing to “consent to commission of a battery upon her person.” The court addressed whether Code §2.1-725(D) “bars a common law action for wrongful termination based on public policies not reflected in the VHRA, when the conduct alleged in the motion for judgment also violates a public policy reflected in the VHRA.” That section states, “Causes of action based upon the public policies reflected in this chapter shall be exclusively limited to those actions, procedures and remedies, if any, afforded by applicable federal or state civil rights statutes or local ordinances.” The court noted that the statute only abrogated common law causes of action for wrongful discharge based on public policies in the VHRA; common law causes of action for wrongful discharge based on public policies not in the VHRA are not prohibited by the section. The Court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s wrongful discharge claim based on the public policy of “refusing to consent to commission of battery upon her person” – since if she had consented, there would have been no battery. However, it reversed the trial court’s holding as to wrongful termination based on public policy in Code §§ 18.2-344 and -345, which prohibit fornication, and lewd and lascivious behavior respectively.

Speedway Superamerica, LLC v. Dupont Florida 5th District Court of Appeal (2006)

Sexual harassment

Dupont, employed by Speedway convenience stores, sued her employer alleging a hostile work environment and 13, in violation of Florida’s Civil Rights Act. Dupont’s complaint stemmed from her interactions with a coworker, Coryell, who shared Dupont’s midday shift. Dupont had for months complained to her superiors that Coryell acted inappropriately with her, both violently and sexually. For instance, Dupont complained that Coryell had inappropriately grabbed her, made sexual comments concerning female customers, and humiliated her. Speedway, at the time, had a written 13 policy, yet no action was taken. Speedway continued to place Dupont and Coryell together on the same shift. The Court found Dupont’s claim viable, noting that Coryell’s conduct – even if not entirely sexual in nature – constituted 13 where motivated by a hostility toward women because of their gender. The Court went on to describe Florida’s policy against 13 in the workplace as strong, noting that courts should liberally construe section 760.10, Florida Statutes. Finally, the Court found an award of punitive damages appropriate, even where the jury had not found Speedway’s conduct willful, because Coryell’s conduct was clearly willful and Speedway had been at the very least negligent in failing to respond to Dupont’s complaints.

Middlekauf v. Allstate Ins. Co. Supreme Court of Virginia (1994)

Sexual harassment

A former employee brought an action against supervisor and employer for intentional infliction of emotional distress due to harassment. She alleged that her supervisor intentionally sought to humiliate her in front of her co-workers and made harassing, sexist, and belittling comments. Although she complained to her manager and other supervisors, they failed to intervene. The Defendant argued that her claims were barred by the exclusivity provision (Code § 65.2-307) of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. The court held that her allegations of gradually incurring severe emotional distress due to harassment did not amount to “injury by accident” under the Workers’ Compensation Act; therefore the action against the employer was not barred by the exclusivity provision of the Act.

Moniz v. Reitano Enterprises, Inc. Florida 4th District Court of Appeal (1998)

Sexual harassment

Moniz was injured in an attack by her supervisor at her place of employment during which her supervisor bit her. Moniz was paid $20,000 as a worker’s compensation settlement. This amount was comprised of $12,000 for past and future monetary compensation benefits including any re-employment services and assessment benefits and $8,000 for past and future medical benefits. Attorneys’ fees and doctors’ bills were also paid, including bills for her treatment for psychological injuries. While the worker’s compensation claim was pending, Moniz filed a seven count complaint against her employer, Reitano and her supervisor for 13, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery and false imprisonment, based in part on the “biting” incident and in part on allegations that her supervisor continually made sexual suggestions and threatened to fire her if she did not “do the right thing”. She claimed he touched her breasts, grabbed her buttocks, pulled her underwear and rubbed up against her in an aroused condition. The trial court granted summary judgment against Moniz based on its belief that the election of remedies doctrine barred Moniz from seeking relief in tort and under Title VII for 13 because of her worker’s compensation settlement. This Court held that to the extent Moniz’s claims can be separated from the biting incident on which the worker’s compensation settlement was based, the election of remedies doctrine will not bar such claims. As such, Moniz’s claims for 13 and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which were based on a much broader course of conduct than the battery by her supervisor in the biting incident, were not barred by the election of remedies doctrine.

Roth v. DeFeliceCare, Inc. Supreme Court of West Virginia (2010)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff brought a hostile work environment claim, among others. She witnessed her supervisor and another employee in a compromising position. Her supervisor threatened her with the loss of employment and her license if she shared what she had witnessed. She promised to remain silent and shortly thereafter went on vacation. When she returned, her supervisor fired her, stating that he did not like the way she dressed or styled her hair. Plaintiff was an at-will employee at the time of termination. Plaintiff alleged that she “was subjected to improper and sexually explicit conduct by her superiors … thereby creating a hostile and abusive environment in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act.” To state a claim for 13 under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, a plaintiff must prove “(1) the subject conduct was unwelcome; (2) it was based on the sex of the plaintiff; (3) it was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the … [plaintiff’s] conditions of employment and create an abusive work environment, and (4) it was imputable on some factual basis to the employer.” The Court also held that “an employee may state a claim for hostile environment 13 if unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” The Court held that plaintiff sufficiently pled a cause of action for hostile workplace and overturned the lower court’s grant of a motion to dismiss.

Garner v. State Commission on Ethics Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal (1983)

Sexual harassment

Complaints were filed with Florida Commission on Ethics against Garner alleging that he attempted to use his position as president of Hillsborough Community College to sexually harass or obtain sexual favors from various female personnel. Following a hearing on the complaints the Commission on Ethics suspended Garner from office for three months. Garner appealed based on Florida Statutes Section 112.313 which provides that “no public officer or employee of an agency shall corruptly use or attempt to use his official position … to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself or others …” The section defines “corruptly” as “done with a wrongful intent and for the purpose of obtaining ... any benefit resulting from some act or omission of a public servant which is inconsistent with the proper performance of his public duties.” Garner claimed that this statute did not provide adequate notice that 13 was prohibited and that it was intended to cover only economic benefits. In addition, Garner claimed that there were no adverse job-related effects upon employees subject to his conduct. This Court held that since the charges against Garner included his obtaining sexual favors, Garner was “benefited” and that his actions were consistent with the definition of “corrupt” as being inconsistent with the performance of his official duties. Furthermore the Court indicated that it could find no legislative intent to restrict the reach of the statute to economic benefits and that there is no requirement in the statute that as a result of the public officer’s efforts to obtain a benefit from an employee that employee will necessarily be impacted in any particular way. As such, the Court upheld Garner’s suspension.

Ruffin Hotel Corp. v. Gasper Maryland Supreme Court (2011)

Sexual harassment

Respondent sought damages from petitioner and Irman Ahmed, who terminated Respondent’s employment. Respondent brought, inter alia, claims of negligent hiring and retention against Ruffin Corp. and intentional infliction of emotional distress by Ahmed; employment discrimination and 13 by Ruffin and retaliation by Ruffin. Gasper alleged that Ruffin hotel hired Ahmed, despite its knowledge that a number of employees had complained of his abusive behavior, behavior that included 13. She also alleged that Ahmed refused to intervene when she was harassed by another employee and that he fired her after she complained of the harassment. The court held that petitioner’s claim for negligent hiring and retention, due to her allegation that Ruffin hired an individual against whom allegations of 13 had been made, was not preempted by Title VII, the Maryland Human Relations Act, a county code provision prohibiting retaliation for complaining of 13 or the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act. It also found that the rule prohibiting introduction of evidence of other crimes was only applicable in criminal, not civil cases; however, Gasper could not introduce evidence of harassment by Ahmed occurring prior to Ahmed’s rehire because her current allegation was against another employee.

Poole v. Copland, Inc. North Carolina Supreme Court (1998)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff sued John Haynes for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and Copland, Inc. for ratification of Haynes’ conduct, negligent retention and supervision of Haynes, and imputed liability. The plaintiff alleged that Haynes intimidated and harassed her during the one year that she worked for Copland, Inc. She asked him to stop and reported the incidents to her supervisor. The supervisor reportedly told her that he was a “youngun” and to ignore him. After one incident outside of work, she complained to her supervisors. They had a meeting with the plaintiff and Haynes; Haynes was terminated, and the plaintiff was also terminated later that day. The plaintiff alleged that the harassment caused her to cry, disturbed her sleep, and gave her nightmares. She testified to a long history of sexual abuse at the hands of various individuals. Experts explained that she had a dissociative disorder and the experience of harassment caused a flashback that triggered severe mental problems. The trial court dismissed all claims except the claim “for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Haynes and the claims against Copland for ratification of Haynes’ conduct and negligent retention of Haynes.” The jury awarded monetary damages, and the Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, citing an error in the charge. The North Carolina Supreme Court considered the “thin skull” rule, which “provides that if the defendant’s misconduct amounts to a breach of duty to a person of ordinary susceptibility, he is liable for all damages suffered by the plaintiff notwithstanding the fact that these damages were unusually extensive because of the particular susceptibility of the plaintiff.” Copland argued that there was error because the jury was permitted to “consider the thin skull damages when it determined the liability issue.” Copland contends therefore that the jury was able to find liability “without finding that defendant Haynes’ action could have caused severe emotional distress in a person of ordinary susceptibility.” The court disagreed, noting that a clinical psychologist testified that a person of “ordinary sensibilities” could have been affected in a manner similar to the plaintiff in this case. It also held that there was no error in the jury instructions, and that the instructions correctly explained that the jury had to find that Haynes’ actions could have reasonably injured a person of normal sensibilities before it could hold him liable for all of the consequences of his actions. The court also did not review the Court of Appeals finding that the thin skull rule applies to mental, not just physical injury, and that the fact that the jury received instructions during the damages, rather than liability phase of the case, was not error.

Ohio Government Risk Management Plan v. Harrison Supreme Court of Ohio (2007)

Sexual harassment

The Court held that alleged 13 by police chief was not outside the scope of his employment; therefore the insurer owed the police chief a duty to defend him in a lawsuit brought by a former employee alleging 13. Plaintiff alleged that defendant used the department’s computer system to distribute pornographic images and emails and also used hidden electronic devices to record female employees in the restroom. Plaintiff filed a five-count complaint that included claims for hostile work environment due to her gender and a sex-discrimination claim. She sued him in his individual and official capacity, arguing that he acted in his official capacity as chief of police. At the time, the Ohio Government Risk Management Plan provided liability insurance coverage to Harrison, the police chief. It filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that it had no duty to provide coverage or a defense to Harrison. The court held that whether acts fall within the scope of employment will vary from case to case; however, the court would not find that 13 always lies outside the scope of employment. Whether or not acts occurred within the scope of employment “turns on the fact-finder’s perception of whether the supervisor acted, or believed himself to have acted, at least in part, in his employer’s interests.” The Court also examined the language of the policy and held that the insurer had a duty to defend.

In the Matter of Dwayne M. Brown Indiana Supreme Court (1998)

Sexual harassment

The court upheld an elected clerk’s three-year suspension from the practice of law for various acts, including sexual advances toward female employees in the clerk’s office. Six female employees made allegations that he sexually harassed them. Respondent attempted to argue that his actions toward the employees did not meet the standard for “13” as defined by the EEOC. The Court found that it did not need to rely on a federal agency’s definition to “find that the respondent’s creation and perpetuation of a work environment infected with inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances violated Prof. Cond. R. 8.4(d).” It found that his acts were “prejudicial to the administration of justice,” whether or not they met a legal definition of 13. Furthermore, he did not testify at the hearing or otherwise rebut the evidence, but merely contended that the allegations by former employees were untrue. It therefore suspended him from the practice of law for three years.

Burris v. Azadani Court of Appeal (Civil Division) (1995)

Sexual harassment

Mr. Azadani, the appellant, was under an injunction not to go within 250 yards of a specified address, after he had repeatedly sought a close and intimate relationship with Ms. Burris, which she refused, leading to repeated telephone calls and threats. Ms. Burris sought and obtained an interlocutory injunction prohibiting Mr. Azadani from pestering or contacting Ms. Burris, her children or her friends, or of going within 250 yards of her house. He breached the injunction and was committed to prison; he appeals the injunction. The Court held that an order prohibiting the defendant from being in a defined area in which the plaintiff's home was situated was possible in support of an injunction forbidding tortious harassment.

Rajeev v. Ram Kishan Jaiswal Supreme Court of India (1992)

Dowry-related violence, Harmful traditional practices

In this case, a woman's in-laws repeatedly demanded additional gifts from her. As a result of this harassment, the woman committed suicide. The Court defined dowry as any demand for gifts in relation to marriage and dowry death as a death within seven years of marriage where there have been demands for dowry.

Air India v. Nargesh Meerza Supreme Court of India (1981)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Gender discrimination

Air India, a state-owned company, required female flight attendants to retire under three circumstances: (1) upon reaching 35 years of age, (2) upon getting married, or (3) upon first pregnancy. The Court struck the rules down, holding that these requirements constituted official arbitrariness and hostile discrimination.


Child Testimony: Admissibility, Reliability and Procedures (2014)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

This memorandum discusses the strategies courts employ around the world to treat child victims and witnesses and their evidence when giving testimony. International and regional human rights standards have highlighted good practices in the treatment of vulnerable young child witnesses, centering on the foundational principle of the best interests of the child. In turn, domestic courts and legislatures worldwide have created and employed a broad range of judicial approaches to the admissibility of child witness testimony; the reliability of child witness evidence, and the procedures that should be employed to facilitate child witness testimony.

Closed-circuit Television in Cases Involving Child Testimony (2014)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

This memorandum discusses the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) in courtrooms for cases where there will be child testimony. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes recommends that children be allowed to give testimony through CCTV or another mechanism in order to prevent the child witness from being traumatized. Unfortunately, given the funding requirements, few countries have the facilities to use CCTV. Yet, a number of countries have statutes allowing for alternative mechanisms to prevent child victims from seeing the defendant while giving testimony. Some laws providing for the use of CCTV have been challenged, but courts have upheld the laws in nearly every situation.