New York City Museum Addresses Sexual Harassment Allegations

Workers in New York City are protected by multiple antidiscrimination statutes. New York City sexual harassment lawyers can choose from federal, state, and local laws when determining how best to advocate for their clients’ rights. This includes employment laws like the New York City Human Rights Law and education laws like Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Individuals who have endured sexual harassment may also be able to assert common-law claims based on negligence. Employers have significant incentive to maintain policies on harassment prevention, along with robust methods of enforcement. A news story reported in late 2020 demonstrates how employers can use employment policies to address complaints of harassment against employees in supervisory positions. The story involves a now-former museum curator accused by a former student of sexual harassment and bullying.

Sexual harassment is considered to be a form of discrimination on the basis of sex in two types of situations. First, a supervisor or manager cannot make sexual requests or demands of an employee when refusal could adversely affect the employee’s job. The threat to the employee’s job could be explicit, such as when a manager openly expects sexual contact with an employee in exchange for favorable shift assignments. It can also be more subtle than this, as long as there is a clear causal connection between the refusal of the demands and adverse consequences.

The second type of unlawful sexual harassment occurs when pervasive or severe sexual conduct in the workplace interferes with an employee’s ability to perform their job duties and creates what an objective observer would consider a hostile work environment. An employer must know about the objectionable conduct, or they must be in a position where they should know about it. If they fail to take reasonable measures to address the problem, they could be liable to the aggrieved employee.

New York recognizes the claim of negligent hiring and supervision, which could be relevant to some sexual harassment claims. A state appellate court discussed the elements of the claim in a 2015 decision, noting that it can allow a plaintiff to hold an employer liable for the acts of an employee, even though the employee was not acting on the employer’s behalf at the time. A plaintiff must show that the employer knew, or should have known, about an employee’s propensity for conduct that could cause injury but failed to try to mitigate the risk to the plaintiff and others. In cases of sexual harassment, knowledge of prior complaints or incidents could obligate an employer to take action.

In September 2020, a New York City museum announced that it had fired a curator after concluding an investigation into sexual harassment allegations. A graduate student who had worked under the curator’s supervision alleged that he had sexually assaulted her and engaged in ongoing sexual harassment through comments and text messages. The museum found that the curator had violated museum policies regarding sexual relationships between staff and people under their supervision.

The museum has had two other high-profile cases of alleged sexual harassment in recent years, giving it substantial incentive to investigate claims against its employees. Another curator resigned in 2016 amid an investigation. The museum investigated another prominent scientist in 2018 and 2019 and allowed him to keep his job.

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates help New York City workers and job seekers fight for their rights in claims for sexual harassment and other violations of city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our skilled and experienced team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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