Lawsuit Seeks to Hold Employer Accountable for Sexual Harassment that Turned Violent

Sexual harassment violates multiple employment statutes with jurisdiction over New York City. These statutes give victims of sexual harassment the right to recover damages in an administrative proceeding or a civil lawsuit. In some cases, the acts that lead to a sexual harassment complaint may also violate criminal laws. A lawsuit filed in the fall of 2016 demonstrates the unfortunately close relationship between civil claims for sexual harassment and certain criminal offenses. The lawsuit seeks to hold the plaintiff’s employer accountable for failing to respond to her complaints of sexual harassment, which led to an assault that left her with life-threatening injuries. Trease v. ITT Educational Svcs., Inc., No. 2:16-cv-02982, complaint (D. Ariz., Sep. 6, 2016).

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 deals with various forms of employment discrimination throughout the country, including sex discrimination. Amendments to the statute and Supreme Court decisions have added to the statute’s definition of sex discrimination over the years. It now includes various forms of sexual harassment. Employers have a duty to respond to employees’ complaints about sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment. At the state level, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) provides similar protections for workers, and it sets similar expectations for employers. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) does much the same for employers and employees in the city.

The plaintiff in Trease worked for the defendant, a “for-profit college” with locations around the country, as an “enrollment representative.” Trease, complaint at 3. Her complaint alleges sexual harassment by at least two individuals, a fellow employee of the defendant and a student, although the student’s alleged harassment dominates the story of the case. The student, who enrolled in the fall of 2011, had prior convictions from another state for “kidnapping, burglary, and rape,” and therefore he wore an ankle monitor. Id. The defendant assigned the student to the plaintiff. She alleges that the student made repeated “unwanted sexual advances,” but the defendant took no action in response to her complaints. Id. at 4.

The student reportedly removed his ankle monitor and was sent back to prison for several months in late 2011, but he was readmitted to the school and reassigned to the plaintiff after his release. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant still did not investigate her claims but instead disciplined her in February 2012 in retaliation for her complaints.

The sexual harassment by the student allegedly continued until late April 2012, when he attacked her as she was leaving work, sexually assaulted her, and “shot her through the chest” when she tried to escape. Id. at 6. The student was convicted of “attempted second degree murder, kidnapping, and two counts of aggravated assault.” Arizona v. Webb, No. 1 CA-CR 14-0546, mem. dec. at 2 (Ariz. App., Div. 1, Mar. 31, 2016).

The plaintiff needed about six months of treatment and rehabilitation before she could return to work. On her first day back at work in late October 2012, she claims, the defendant fired her. The lawsuit asserts causes of action under Title VII for sexual harassment and unlawful retaliation. Unfortunately, the defendant’s bankruptcy may hinder any possible recovery by the plaintiff.

Phillips & Associates’ sexual harassment attorneys fight for the rights of job seekers, employees, and former employees in New York City, helping them assert claims for sexual harassment and other unlawful employment practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our skilled and experienced team, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Comedy Scenes in Major U.S. Cities, Including New York, Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 30, 2016

National Gymnastics Federation Faces Sexual Abuse Allegations Involving Coaches, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 24, 2016

Lawsuit Against Property Owner Alleges Conspiracy in Connection with Sexual Assault Claim, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 22, 2016

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