Calif. Court: Affairs at Work
Can Harass Those Not Involved
SAN FRANCISCO -- A manager who has affairs with subordinates can create a work climate that constitutes sexual harassment even for uninvolved employees, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Phil Horowitz, of the California Employment Lawyers Association, who submitted a brief to the court in support of a lawsuit filed by two women, called the decision "groundbreaking."
Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said the decision "tells employers that having an anti-nepotism policy is not enough. You need to do more to make sure that you have a hostility-free work environment, even when employees are having consensual sexual relationships."
The case involves former employees at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla who complained about then-warden Lewis Kuykendall, who was sexually involved with at least three women at the same time.
The plaintiffs, Edna Miller and Frances Mackey, sued the Department of Corrections for sexual harassment in 1999. A lower court ruled against the women, saying they "were not themselves subjected to sexual advances and were not treated any differently than male employees." The state Supreme Court overturned that decision, saying that an isolated instance of favoritism would not ordinarily constitute harassment. But when it is so widespread that "the demeaning message is conveyed to female employees that they are viewed by management as 'sexual playthings' or that the way required for women to get ahead in the workplace is by engaging in sexual conduct," it constitutes harassment, Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote in the unanimous decision.
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-- From News Services