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Shoddy Investigations Into Harassment Allegations Pose Risk to Employers

In Massachusetts, employers that are provided notice of sexual harassment allegations are obligated to launch a prompt, objective investigation into those allegations. The failure to do so subjects the company to significant exposure.

Recently, a finance manager at a large car dealership was notified of her termination. The finance manager, a woman, provided details that her boss, the finance director, had been sexually harassing her for the past 18 months. The car dealership went forward with the termination decision.

The plaintiff brought a claim against the dealership and was awarded over ½ Million dollars for emotional distress and punitive damages for the sexual harassment. The dealership appealed and the award was upheld. The dealership argued that they had policies in place for employees to report sexual harassment, and secondly, that the company did conduct an investigation subsequent to the finance manager’s termination. The court disagreed and found that the dealership’s investigation was inadequate and that the dealership did not take adequate remedial measures after being put on notice of the harassment and that the failure to do so was egregious.

Similarly, in Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc., which is a 2nd circuit decision, the plaintiff was an employee that complained that a colleague sent her sexually explicit, offensive text messages. The company purportedly investigated and believed that the plaintiff employee was complicit. The plaintiff employee pleaded with the company to review her cell phone to witness the original text messages because the perpetrator had ‘doctored’ or manipulated the original text messages to make it appear that the plaintiff was the instigator. The company refused to consider the employee’s evidence and relied exclusively on the representations and evidence provided by the perpetrator.

The court found in favor of the plaintiff/employee. The court found that the company could be liable because it allowed itself to be manipulated. This sends a powerful message that a superficial investigation that is not objective and/or diligent cannot shield a company, and in fact, may be the basis to impose liability.

If you work in the Boston area and have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, contact us today for a free consultation: (978) 228-2262

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