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A Report of Sexual Harassment Results in Retaliation and Violation of Federal Law

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently sued a Tampa-based pediatric medical practice for violating federal law for retaliating against a female registered nurse who was a victim of sexual harassment. The retaliation occurred when the nurse reported that a doctor, who was also the company's vice president, had inappropriately touched her. According to the EEOC, the employer transferred the nurse to a different location, "where her work conditions were intolerable so that she was forced to resign."

Details of the case include:

  • The male doctor inappropriately touched the nurse twice.
  • The employee reported the incidents to her supervisor, who agreed that the behavior was inappropriate.
  • Her supervisor directed the employee to go to human resources.
  • The nurse was transferred to a different location.
  • Many of her job duties as a nurse were taken away, and her pay was reduced.
  • The nurse was forced to resign as a consequence of the retaliation from the practice.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who object to discrimination and harassment.

After attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement, the EEOC's suit filed in U.S. District Court seeks back pay, compulsory and punitive damages for the discrimination victim, and injunctive relief the agency said.

"The EEOC will address employers who punish their employees for properly reporting inĀ­appropriate conduct, making the victim even worse off," said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC's Miami District Office. "That is illegal retaliation and should not be tolerated."

When is Sexual Harassment Considered Illegal?

Sexual Harassment can include unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. It is important to understand that sexual harassment isn't necessarily always sexually suggestive in nature. Sexual harassment can be verbal, physical, nonverbal, or visual, and the harasser or victim can be of any gender, sex, race, and age.

For sexual harassment to be considered illegal, it is either severe or pervasive in nature - it does not have to be both.

  • A singular sexual harassment incident or even assault that is considered severe is considered illegal under the law. Examples include extreme sexual misconduct, physical groping or touching, and more violent acts such as rape or attempted rape would be regarded as severe.
  • Pervasive incidents of harassment are ongoing and persistent. While they may not be as severe in nature, the cases may be frequent. For example, persistent threats, touching, gestures, or comments made would be considered pervasive.

It's important to note that if the harassment is considered either severe or pervasive and has created a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive, it is against the law.

Employers and Employees Responsibilities

All employees have the right to work in an environment that is safe and free from harassment. Both employers and employees have responsibilities when it comes to creating a work environment that is safe and harassment-free.

When an employee reports sexual harassment, employers must promptly investigate, document, and respond to all reports of sexual harassment. From there, employers must prevent any form of retaliation, gossip, or rumor spreading.

Did you know?

Healthcare Compliance Pros' Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace training module educates employees and employers on identifying and preventing sexual harassment. Many states such as New York, California, and Delaware are now requiring all employers to train their employees on how to prevent sexual harassment. Our training module is updated regularly to ensure those who complete it satisfy their state sexual harassment training requirements. Contact us today by phone at 855-427-0427 or by email: support@hcp.md for more information about adding this course.


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