Claim Denied for Not Notifying Her Employer of Harassment

In a case decided earlier this year, the Supreme Court of New York denied a female employee’s complaint for sexual harassment and constructive discharge because she failed to inform her employer of the alleged harassment, thereby not allowing it to take any corrective measures.[1]

In 2009 the female employee was hired as a bookkeeper to work for Bulletproof, a large horse breeding and racing company owned by Jeffrey.  Jeffrey’s brother David owned two businesses, a hedge fund and his own horse racing business, Perfect World. The employee worked at Bulletproof for two week, then did not go back or even call to quit.  Instead, she filed a complaint of sexual harassment and constructive discharge against the two brothers and their respective companies, alleging that David was her boss and he sexually harassed her to such an extent she could not return to work even though she needed the money.[2]

At issue in the case was identity of the plaintiff’s employer.  All of the female employee’s claims arose from sexual advances made by David and were premised on the contention that David was her supervisor.  However, as the Court indicated David, the alleged harasser, had neither an ownership interest in Bulletproof, which paid plaintiff’s salary, or the power to do anything in that company.  Jeffrey testified that David had absolutely nothing to do with Bulletproof.   Similarly, the employee testified that when she started work, she understood that her supervisor would be Jeffrey.

As the Court noted, this was the “first time that the identity of the plaintiff’s supervisor is the subjective element” of a sexual harassment claim in New York.  To resolve this threshold issue the Court turned to the U.S. Supreme Court stated, “If, in the unusual case, it is alleged there is a false impression that the actor was a supervisor, when he in fact was not, the victim’s mistaken conclusion must be a reasonable one…. Apparent authority exists only to the extent it is reasonable for the third person dealing with the agent to believe that the agent is authorized.”[3] While the Court had doubts as to whether a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position would have thought that David was her supervisor, it resolved the uncertainty in her favor and proceeding as if David where her supervisor.

The Court, nonetheless, denied the employee’s claim, finding that the Faragher–Ellerth defense applied to Bulletproof to excuse any liability.  Under federal and state law, an employer vicariously liable for the discriminatory conduct of a managerial or supervisory employee may elude liability by asserting the so-called Faragher–Ellerth defense.  For this defense to succeed, the employer must show that (i) no adverse employment action (e.g., termination) was taken as part of the sexual harassment; (ii) the employer took prompt corrective action; and, (iii) the plaintiff unreasonably failed to avail herself of “corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise”[4]

According to the Court, the employee could not substantiate her claim of constructive discharge, and there was no evidence of any other adverse employment action. She was not fired; she left of her own volition. “Unless conditions are beyond ordinary’ discrimination, a complaining employee is expected to remain on the job while seeking redress.” Here there was no evidence to support a claim for constructive discharge, where a plaintiff must allege facts showing that a defendant “deliberately created working conditions so intolerable, difficult or unpleasant that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign.”[5]

Further the Court observed that “Since the plaintiff deprived Bulletproof of the opportunity to take ‘prompt corrective action’ by not informing anyone of David’s harassment, she cannot show that Bulletproof ‘acquiesced in the discriminating conduct or subsequently condoned it’ instead of taking corrective action.”[6] Similarly, plaintiff unreasonably failed to avail herself of whatever corrective opportunities Bulletproof could have offered her if it had been given the chance. The employee did not even resign; she just left work one day and did not return the next, and when Jeffrey called her multiple times to find out what happened, she did not return his calls.  The Court held “under these circumstances, the plaintiff cannot state a claim against Bulletproof even assuming that David was her supervisor.”[7]

 

If you are the victim of sexual harassment or discriminatory treatment in the workplace, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced employment law practitioner.  The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment law practitioners and assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about Title VII and workplace discrimination or any other employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 

[1] Poolt v. Brooks, 38 Misc. 3d 1216(A) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2013)

[2] Id.

[3] Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 759 (1998)

[4] Zakrzewska v. The New School, 14 N.Y.3d 469, 476–477 (2010)

[5] Polidori v. Societe Generale Groupe, 39 A.D.3d 404, 405–406, 835 (2007)

[6] Poolt v. Brooks, 38 Misc. 3d 1216(A) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2013)

[7] Poolt v. Brooks, 38 Misc. 3d 1216(A) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2013)