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  • Prospect Airlines Settles Sexual Harassment Suit

    It’s a flip on the old stereotype, but men can be sexually harassed by women, too.

    Prospect Airlines, a company providing wheelchair services for airports in 13 cities, now knows that when men report sexual harassment, the reports need to be taken seriously.  Settling the case, filed by the EEOC in 2005, just months before trial was set to begin, the company is now required to develop an anti-sexual harassment policy and to conduct yearly training for its supervisors. Additionally, they are forbidden to violate the Civil Rights Act for five years and will be monitored for three.

    Events leading up to the suit:

    In 2002, Rudolpho Lamas began working for Prospect Airlines as a wheelchair assistant for passengers at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. He was a recent widower at the time, and did not welcome the sexual advances of his married co-worker Sylvia Munoz. Munoz would frequently ask him out, make sexual propositions and would simulate fellatio when he passed by. She even recruited co-workers to tell him that she wanted him, wrote love letters, and gave him a semi-nude photograph of herself.

    Lamas told Munoz and the co-workers that he wasn’t interested, repeatedly. But the harassment did not stop.  Lamas reported her to his boss, but was forced to escalate matters when nothing was done, and went to the next supervisor up the ladder. This supervisor, Dennis Mitchell, claimed he didn’t want to get involved in the situation, but eventually the supervisor told Munoz that he was aware that she was “pursuing a co-worker” and that the co-worker wanted it to stop.

    The harassment didn’t stop; in fact, Lamas testified that whenever he walked by Munoz she would act out in some sexually suggestive fashion. Munoz, a deeply religious man, found the attention embarrassing and testified that it created a constant pressure at work. To make matters worse, his co-workers began to wonder if he was a homosexual.

    Lamas spoke to four different Prospect supervisors about the harassment and nothing was done. Finally, his work began to suffer as a result of the strain. He was fired in 2003 for his “negative attitude.”

    The District Court of Nevada found that Munoz’ conduct did not amount to hostile workplace sexual harassment since most men would have “welcomed” the attention. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed, however, noting that it is a stereotype to assume that simply because a man receives sexual attention from a woman, those advances are welcome.  The court went on to state that “welcomeness is inherently subjective,” making it irrelevant if other men would have welcomed Munoz’ advances.

    Applicable law:

    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment. Women and men are protected alike under the law, and harassment is also illegal if done by a member of the same sex as the victim. States’ laws also make sexual harassment in the workplace illegal. Call a sexual harassment lawyer in California for more information on the applicable California laws.

    There are several types of actionable workplace sexual harassment. However, generally speaking, harassment by a supervisor that culminates in an adverse employment action, or (like the case in Prospect) where the sexual harassment by a co-worker is so extreme or pervasive as to create a hostile work environment, violates the law.

    Consult a sexual harassment lawyer in California for help if you find yourself being subjected to harassment in the workplace.