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Employer Responsibility: Make Sure You Investigate Complaints of Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

above-the-bar-logo-no12.jpgThe EEOC entered into a settlement recently with American Laser Centers (“ALC”) for $125,000 as well as other relief for allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation. ALC is the country’s largest provider of laser based skincare services, including laser hair removal, cellulite reduction and skin rejuvenation treatments. The company opened in 2002 and now has over 150 clinics nationwide.

The lawsuit alleged that the landlord of the facility was sexually harassing the female staff in one of ALC’s clinics in Fresno, California since at least 2006. The landlord’s harassment included leering, unwelcome touching, sexual advances and showing up at work visibly aroused. One employee felt threatened to that extent that she brought her brother to work for protection. The clinic manager and female employees complained to which ALC conducted a superficial investigation, finding no wrongdoing on the landlord’s part and still left the women employees exposed to the landlord’s sexual harassment. After reporting the landlord’s harassment, the female clinic manager was fired. Our attorneys have helped many women as well as men who have faced sexual harassment and retaliation at the workplace. If you are being sexually harassment at your workplace, call us to discuss how we can help you.

EEOC filed a lawsuit in January 2010 alleging that ALC did not address the women’s sexual harassment complaint and that the female clinic manager who complained about the sexual harassment was fired in retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC’s investigation showed that ALC conducted a “superficial internal investigation with no finding of wrongdoing on the part of the landlord.”

Title VII makes sexual harassment based on a hostile working environment illegal. At ALC, the women were harassed with the hostile work environment that was created by the landlord. This type of harassment results when a supervisor, co-worker, customer, vendor, or anyone that the employee comes in contact with engages in unwelcome and inappropriate sexually based behavior which makes the workplace severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive working environment. In other words, Title VII also prohibits an employer form allowing a third party to harass one of its employees. The EEOC’s regional attorney, Anna Y. Park, commented that “We encourage employers to be vigilant about addressing complaints of harassment by third parties as well as employees. . . proactive action is important to prevent liability.”

The settlement agreement, which involves a 3 year consent decree, provides for ALC to correct the sexual harassment as well as prevent future instances, discrimination and retaliation at not just the location in question, but in ALC’s clinics around the bay area region as well. ALC must correct and implement anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies and complaint procedures, annual training for staff, designation of an internal EEO officer,

Sexual harassment is a serious workplace problem faced not just be women but also men. It is illegal for a man to sexually harass a woman and vice versa. If any of your employees file a complaint or even verbally report sexual harassment, you should promptly and thoroughly investigate the matter. Keep a record of the complaint, the investigation, and everything you did to remedy the matter. Anyone found to be harassing another employee should be dealt with appropriately. If the harasser is not an employee, you still need to stop the harassment. Any failure on your part to investigate and stop the harassment can cause you unnecessary and costly litigation as well as negative publicity.

If you don’t have an anti-harassment policy and a complaint procedure set up in your office, call our Sexual Harassment Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to help you prevent and deal with any instances of sexual harassment.

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