CA 1: Fired Employee May Proceed With Title VII Claim Based on Spurned Co-Worker’s Conduct

A federal appeals court last month gave employers something new to worry about in sexual harassment lawsuits. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, a fired employee may hold the employer liable for being negligent in allowing a co-worker to discriminate against him because he turned down her sexual advances, eventually resulting in the employer’s decision to fire him.

The conventional wisdom before this ruling was that the employer could be liable under a negligence theory only in cases involving hostile work environment harassment, that is, when a co-worker made life so miserable for other workers because sexual harassment was pervasive and severe in the work environment.

However, this new ruling by the first circuit opens the door to claims of employer negligence in quid pro quo harassment lawsuits. In a quid pro quo case, the employee alleges that the employer fired the employee or withheld a benefit of employment because the employee rejected a supervisor’s advances.

What’s interesting about this case is that the spurned co-worker was not the fired employee’s supervisor. But the appeals court sad that because the spurned co-worker’s discriminatory treatment of the fired employee was with the clear motivation of getting him fired, the employer could be held liable for in effect being negligent in allowing that discriminatory behavior to take place without putting a stop to it.

It’s as though the co-worker was the other employee’s supervisor for all intents and purposes.

The case is Velazquez -Perez v. Developers Diversified Realty Corp., No. 12-2226, decided May 23.

You can read the full text of the decision here.

My thanks to TheEmplawyerologist blog for picking up this post.

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