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  • Jury Rejects Sexual Harassment Claim by Ex-Employee

    It took a jury in Delaware only 90 minutes to come to the conclusion that Diana L. Miller was not the victim of sexual harassment by her superior while she was an employee of the Delaware State Police Department.

    Miller claimed that Captain John Laird, who retired in 2007, coerced her into having sexual relations with him. Laird retired quickly following harassment accusations Miller made to the Delaware State Police.

    To the contrary, Deputy Attorney General, Michael McTaggart asserted during his closing arguments that Miller and Laird’s sexual relationship was, in fact, consensual. It was his theory that Miller claimed harassment as a way to deflect attention from herself, since the allegations were brought to light only after she learned that she was under internal investigation by the department.

    Apparently the jury agreed with McTaggart.

    McTaggert also stated that the State Police took appropriate actions as soon as they learned of Miller’s claims.

    In the case of sexual harassment in the workplace, an employer must have a process in place for handling harassment claims if they hope to avoid liability for an employee’s conduct. If an employer ignores a complaint that an employee was harassed by a co-worker or supervisor, it may appear to a jury that the employer condoned or was complicit in the harassment behavior.

    In Miller’s case, she claimed quid pro quo sexual harassment which occurs when job benefits are made contingent on the provision of sexual favors. Generally speaking, employers are held strictly liable for this type of harassment.

    It bears noting that the court previously threw out Miller’s claims of hostile work environment sexual harassment as being time-barred, as well as her retaliation claim. Consult an employment lawyer in Los Angeles for more information on workplace harassment laws in California.

    Miller’s remaining claim included allegations that sexual contact was forced on Miller on one occasion, and that Laird had “lured” her onto a vacation in Mexico with him and his wife where the wife told Miller and Laird to have sex while she was holding Miller’s passport.  The jury apparently didn’t give much credence to her side of the story.

    Laird, on the other hand, now feels fully vindicated after the difficult five years it took for the case to come to trial. He was not a named defendant in the case.

    Harassment in the workplace is a very serious issue and there are both Federal and California State laws that forbid such conduct. Harassment is considered a form of discrimination and is illegal when it is based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (over 40), disability, or is made in retaliation for legally protected behavior (whistle blowing for example). California, like an increasing number of states, also makes it illegal to harass someone based on their sexual orientation.

    Generally speaking, comments or behavior that is either severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment or harassment by a supervisor that results in a tangible change in the employee’s employment status is actionable. Of course, the actions of the harasser must be proved to a court of law and liability must attach before a victim will be awarded damages.

    If you or anyone you know is suffering from any form of harassment at work, consult an employment lawyer in Los Angeles to help assess your case.