Faragher-Ellerth Defense Applied to Protect Employer from Liability for Sexual Harassment

In a recent 11th Circuit Court case decided this year, that Court applied the Faragher/Ellerthdefense to bar an employee’s sexual harassment suit under Title VII and state law.[1]

There, a male hairdresser filed suit against his employer alleging sexual harassment in violation of Title VII and the Florida’s Civil Rights Act.  The employee alleged that his employer Creative Hairdressers was liable for allowing his former manager at a Hair Cuttery salon to sexually harass him. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that there were no genuine issues of material fact that Hair Cuttery exercised reasonable care to prevent and correctly promptly any sexually harassing behavior, and that White unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective opportunities or to avoid harm.

The Supreme Court in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton[2] and its companion case Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth[3] recognized certain affirmative defenses an employer can assert to preclude liability when an employee alleges sexual harassment by a supervisor.  Even if an employee establishes a prima facie case of sexual harassment, an employer can avoid liability under the Faragher/Ellerth defense if the employer shows (1) that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct harassing behavior, and (2) that the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the employer, or to otherwise avoid harm. Both elements must be satisfied for the employer to avoid liability, and the employer bears the burden of proof on both elements.

In affirming District Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, the 11th Circuit held that the Faragher/Ellerth defense applied to bar the employee’s claims under Title VII and the FCRA.  The Court recognized that the undisputed evidence demonstrated that Hair Cuttery had promulgated and adequately disseminated sexual harassment policies and complaint procedures to its employees.  Further, the court held that the employee failed to promptly take advantage of Hair Cuttery’s sexual harassment policies and complaint procedures by not promptly notifying the company of his harassment.[4]

Failure to follow employer harassment policies can prevent a valid harassment claim.  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 New York City, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions 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] White v. Creative Hairdressers Inc., 11-16121, 2013 WL 203312 (11th Cir. Jan. 18, 2013)

[4] White v. Creative Hairdressers Inc. at 11-16121

 

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