In Minarsky v. Susquehanna Cty., the Third Circuit Court of Appeal recently rejected the notion that an employee’s refusal to report sexual harassment automatically invalidated the employee’s harassment claim against the employer. There, the employee’s supervisor made unwanted sexual advances towards her and other women for years. The supervisor was reprimanded for incidents involving other women, but no further action was taken against him. In this case, the employee did not report her supervisor’s conduct for fear of losing her job. The County later terminated the supervisor after discovering the persistent harassment of the employee. Subsequently, the employee sued.
The County claimed it was not liable because (1) the County took reasonable care to prevent and correct harassing behavior, and (2) by refusing to report harassment, the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the preventative and corrective opportunities provided by the County. The Third Circuit stated that simply having an anti-harassment policy in place was insufficient proof of the employer’s “reasonable care” to prevent harassing behavior, particularly considering the long time period in which the supervisor harassed the employee and others. Second, the employee’s reasoning for not reporting sexual harassment warranted further consideration, because a jury might find that she did not act unreasonably under the circumstances. As a result, the court allowed the employee’s claim to proceed.
The circuit court’s decision demonstrates that employee silence on harassment does not necessarily absolve an employer of liability. Employers must take appropriate action and follow through on disciplinary measures when an employee is known to have engaged in harassment.