On July 18, 2005, the California Supreme Court decided the case of Miller v. Department of Corrections (case 2005 WL 1661190). Employers who hear rumors of an office Casanova need to be very aware of the liability that can follow if the rumors are true.
(PRWEB) July 25, 2005 -- Any management side employment lawyer will tell you that a supervisor who dates his subordinates is looking for trouble.
The obvious problem is that if the relationship goes sour, the jilted employee may come back and claim the relationship was not consensual, and allege sexual harassment. The more subtle issue is the effect of such a relationship on co-workers who are not romantically involved with their amorous boss. The question has arisen whether co-workers who are passed over for promotions in favor of the girlfriend of the boss can sue their employer for sexual harassment based on allegations that the boss has created a hostile workplace.
On July 18, 2005, the California Supreme Court decided the case of Miller v. Department of Corrections (case 2005 WL 1661190). Miller worked at a state prison. She set forth evidence showing a pattern wherein co-workers having sexual relationships with the warden were getting favorable treatment. She claimed there was a message being sent that the only way to move up was to have sex with the warden. The trial court dismissed the case, and the Court of Appeal agreed, saying that the female employees who were passed over for promotion were in the same boat as male employees who were passed over, so the case was not one involving discrimination based on sex. The Supreme Court disagreed, relying heavily on guidelines of the EEOC, which state that while an isolated incident of favoritism toward a paramour will not support a claim, a widespread sexual favoritism may support a claim for workplace harassment based on a hostile work environment for both males and female co-workers.
The case is very important as it expands the scope of a sexual workplace harassment claim in California to include both men and women passed over in favor of co-workers who are sexually involved with the boss. Employers who hear rumors of an office Casanova need to be very aware of the liability that can follow if the rumors are true, and should investigate the rumors and carefully review any promotions or demotions in which such a supervisor is involved to avoid hostile work environment claims down the road. Implementation of a balanced non-fraternization policy between supervisors and subordinates can also help with the problem.