A New York City Professor Secures an Important Victory in Her Federal Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Her Employer and Her Former Supervisor

Few workplace relationships will impact your job more than your relationship with your immediate supervisor, which is why few situations are more intimidating and stressful than when your supervisor sexually harasses you. It is for this reason that the law erects a special rule of employer liability for situations where your harasser was also your supervisor. With a skilled New York City sexual harassment lawyer on your side, your supervisor sexual harassment case may allow you to recover substantial compensation.

Of course, workplace roles are often fluid and your supervisor last year may not be the same person as your supervisor this year. So, you may wonder, what happens if my harasser was my former supervisor? A recent sexual harassment case from here in New York City looked directly at that question.

In that lawsuit, the alleged victim of harassment was S.D., a “black female of African national origin” who began working for a college in New York City in 2005. In 2014, while working on her Master’s thesis, S.D. sought the assistance of C.A., a professor in the college’s Africana Studies department.

During that period, S.D. allegedly made “unwanted oral sexual contact.” Later incidents allegedly included a voluminous number of inappropriate questions and comments like asking how much money he’d need for S.D. to have sex with him. Additionally, the man allegedly made unwanted contact with S.D.’s breasts and rear.

In January 2017, the college transferred S.D. to the Africana Studies department, meaning that C.A. was now her direct supervisor. The harassment continued and C.A. complained to the college. In September 2017, the college transferred her to the Political Science department, meaning she was removed from C.A.’s direct supervision.

The woman filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Oct. 22, 2018, and later sued in federal court, asserting, among other things, a claim for sexual harassment in violation of Title VII.

All of those dates were extremely important in this worker’s case because of the deadline rules that exist for discrimination and sexual harassment claims. The law says that you have only 300 days to file a charge with the EEOC. If you’re someone who has suffered a protracted period of sexual harassment at work, the law says that you generally can use anything that happened 300 days before you filed the EEOC charge and thereafter; anything that happened more than 300 days before that EEOC filing date is typically considered “time-barred” and is something you cannot use as the basis of your case.

That “300-day” rule meant that S.D. could only use harassment that occurred on or after Dec. 26, 2017 (300 days prior to Oct. 22, 2018.) This eliminated all of the events that occurred on or before Christmas 2017, knocking out things like the extreme harassment that allegedly occurred in 2014. It also meant that the entire period of time in which C.A. was S.D.’s supervisor (January 2017-September 2017) was time-barred as well.

Current Supervisor Versus Former Supervisor

When you are suing your employer based on what’s called “vicarious liability” for the sexual harassment you endured at work, there are different standards of proof, depending on what the scenario was. The law says that, if the harassment you suffered was perpetrated by a coworker, you must show that the harassment was the result of your employer’s “negligence or other wrongdoing” to hold the employer liable. On the other hand, if your harasser was your supervisor, you can hold your employer liable, even without showing that the employer engaged in any sort of negligence or other wrongdoing.

The critical question in S.D.’s lawsuit was whether or not the lower burden of proof applied when the alleged harasser was a former supervisor.

The judge said that it did. The court pointed to a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case that said that “consideration of the entire scope of a hostile work environment claim, including behavior alleged outside the statutory time period, is permissible for the purposes of assessing liability, so long as an act contributing to that hostile environment takes place within the statutory time period.”

In other words, as long as some of the events were not time-barred then, in the case of a “continuing violation” of the laws against sexual harassment (like what S.D. alleged in her case,) those timely events serve to anchor “the claim within the statutory time period,” which thereby allows “a court to consider all events that contribute to that claim.”

The court also noted other federal trial courts — one in the District of Columbia and one in Puerto Rico — had also faced this issue recently and also ruled in favor of the plaintiff when the alleged harasser was a former supervisor.

This significant win for this woman is an important reminder that even in the face of complicated and seemingly unfavorable facts (like statute-of-limitations problems,) success may still be within your reach. When it comes to taking your case to the EEOC or to court, look to the skilled New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates to be the effective legal advocate you need. No one should have to put up with sexual harassment on the job, and we’re here to fight for what you have coming to you. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to set up a free and confidential consultation right away.

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