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Employer Update: Don’t Ignore Sexual Harassment Complaints

above-the-bar-logo-no12An Australian woman, Susan Spiteri, recently filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment against computer giant IBM for $1.13 million. Spiteri, a top sales executive at IBM’s Melbourne office, has alleged that her senior manager bullied her and sexually harassed her for almost 2 years. She has alleged that he engaged inappropriate touching, remarks, intimidation and unreasonable requests and even told her to “get her breasts out” to get more sales.

Spiteri started working at IBM in 1999 and has stated that prior to the harassment, she loved working at IBM. However, beginning in 2007 when a new senior manager was appointed, and for almost two years thereafter, her entire work environment changed. She has alleged in her complaint that “he groped me. He rubbed himself against my backside when he walked past me. He touched me, put his hands up my dress, asked me to expose my breasts to get more sales . . . He called me names to may customers and . . . yelled at me consistently.” Spiteri has alleged that he harassed her at work and at work functions in front of colleagues, customers and managers.

Spiteri has alleged that she complained about the harassment many times to her managers, colleagues as well as to IBM’s human resources department. However, her complaints were ignored. Spiteri has stated that she hopes her complaint will “encourage other victims of sexual harassment to be strong and come forward and stick up for themselves.”

IBM’s website regarding its policies clearly sets forth its global employment standards which specifically state that IBM “will create a work environment free of discrimination or harassment based on race, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age or veteran status. The policies page also states that it “will treat all employees with respect and dignity” without using “threats” or “harassment.” IBM has a detailed policy committed to a workplace free from harassment. An IBM spokesperson has stated that IMB did not tolerate any type of sexual harassment and that it would defend the lawsuit.

Clearly, every company, no matter how large or small, should have a sexual harassment policy and procedure in place. However, just having a policy in place is not enough. Even though IBM is a huge, global company with a human resources department, it turned a blind eye and allowed Spiteri to be sexually harassed and bullied for almost 2 years! As important as it is to have a policy, it is equally important to enforce it. Make sure you investigate any claims of workplace harassment quickly and efficiently. Make sure that the alleged harasser is not threatening or intimidating the alleged victim or witnesses not to speak. Our firm has encountered many instances of the harasser bullying the victim as well as witnesses to the harassment. Our attorneys can help you properly investigate any complaints of sexual harassment.

If your company does not have a sexual harassment policy in place, call our Workplace Harassment Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to help you set up a policy and procedure to avoid the high cost of defending workplace harassment.

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