A manufacturer of oil drilling rig components can’t deny any responsibility if one of its supervisors engages in severe sexual harassment which the victim has complained about fruitlessly to management, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled recently. This is no surprise, although some companies apparently remain unaware of the law. Whenever a supervisory employee harasses or discriminates against others and the company knows but does nothing to stop it, that company is legally responsible for the supervisor’s wrongdoing.
When a former sales representative sued the company for egregious sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation by her supervisor, National Oilwell Varco or NOV, filed a motion for summary judgment. This is a common legal maneuver in which the defendant asks the judge to assume for the moment that everything the plaintiff claims is true, and then determine whether she has a winnable case. If not, it is dismissed.
The Pennsylvania woman’s claim was not dismissed, and assuming for the moment that what she says is true, the case is outrageous.
According to Courthouse News Service, the woman was initially hired by NOV in 2010 as an administrative assistant and was soon promoted to an inside sales representative. When she mentioned to her supervisor that she was interested in a promotion, however, he discouraged her because she had “tits.”
Beyond that, the plaintiff says, the inside sales team was a shockingly hostile work environment. Her supervisor called her a “dumb fucking cunt” on a daily basis and habitually made comments such as “women do not belong in the oil field.” Every couple of weeks or so, he would gather the male employees around to view pornography on team’s shared computer. Claiming he had important friends in upper management, he openly threatened to “beat up” the plaintiff and other employees.
When the question arose of how sexual harassment in the workplace should be treated, the plaintiff claims, he threatened to fire anyone who filed a lawsuit.
The "last straw," according to her complaint, was when the employee of a potential client suggested she let him perform oral sex on her. When she told her supervisor, he angrily accused her of not doing all she could to “lock down that account.”
After complaints to her regional manager were laughed off, the plaintiff resigned. That same year, the sexually-harassing supervisor was himself fired for falsifying inventory, cursing, and being an immature leader.
Finding that the sexual harassment and discrimination described in the complaint met the legal standard of being “severe or pervasive” and based on the plaintiff’s sex, and that NOV had repeatedly been put on notice, the federal judge ruled that her case can move forward.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “Manufacturer May Be Liable for Lewd Manager,” Rose Bouboushian, Aug. 1, 2013