A recent case in California has modified California law regarding sexual affairs in the office, upholding two female employees’ sexual harassment claim based on their manager’s alleged favoritism toward employees with whom he was having sexual relations.
What Was the Situation Involved in This Case?
The case involved former female employees at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the warden. The warden had allegedly been sexually involved with at least three female employees at the same time and had promoted them based on their sexual involvement. The two former employees argued that the warden’s widespread favoritism based upon these consensual sexual affairs imbued their workplace with an atmosphere that was demeaning to them. They stated that the warden’s actions conveyed the message that he viewed women as "sexual playthings" and the only way they could move up in their employment was to become sexually involved with him.
What Was the Outcome?
A lower court ruled against the women, noting that they were not subjected to sexual advances and were not treated any differently than male employees. The California Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision in favor of the female employees.
What Is the Impact of This Case on California Law?
Ordinarily, an isolated instance of favoritism on the part of a supervisor toward a female employee with whom the supervisor is conducting a consensual sexual affair would not constitute sexual harassment. After this case, however, a manager who has affairs with several subordinates may be liable for creating a work climate that constitutes sexual harassment even for uninvolved employees. This means that a worker can be a victim of sexual harassment even if the boss never asks for sexual favors or makes inappropriate advances towards that worker.
Note that an employer will not be vulnerable for a manager’s sexual favoritism unless it is so widespread that it creates an atmosphere where other employees feel the way required to secure advancement is to engage in sexual conduct with a superior employee. If you strongly believe this situation is occurring in your workplace, you may have a case for sexual harassment.
Should I Consult an Attorney about My Sexual Harassment Issue?
Investigating and proving a sexual harassment claim can be difficult. An employment attorney can help you file within the deadlines for sexual harassment claims. He can also help you investigate your claim and inform you of the various options you can pursue.