Under the new standard for employer liability recently enunciated by the United States Supreme Court, employers are now vicariously liable for hostile environments created by their supervising employees rather than liable only for their own negligence. The United States Supreme Court also provides an affirmative defense to vicarious liability to employers who demonstrate through a preponderance of the evidence that (1) they use reasonable care in seeking to correct and prevent sexual harassment and (2) the aggrieved employee unreasonably fails to take advantage of her employer's efforts.
Appellant, municipal employer, challenged the judgment of the district court which denied its motions for a directed verdict and new trial in plaintiff employee’s sexual harassment claim. Appellee filed a sexual harassment action against appellant municipal employer, alleging a hostile work environment. A jury found that appellee’s supervisor sexual harassed her while appellee worked for appellant during a 17-day period, and that the appellant was liable for failing to respond adequately to appellee’s complaint.
Can an employer who leaves her job without explanation or advance notice still state a hostile work environment claim?
The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, subject to a remitter, and also upheld the award of attorney fees. The court held that the evidence clearly showed a hostile work environment and supported the jury’s verdict, considering the frequency of the conduct, its severity, its verbal or physical nature, and its unreasonable interference with appellee’s work performance.