In Harris v. PetSmart, Inc., ___ F.Supp.3d ___, Case No. 11-00094 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 23, 2012), the district court held that an employer was not liable for same-sex harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, regardless of whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or supervisor, because:

√ The company developed and widely published a strict anti-harassment policy along with procedures for responding to complaints of harassment. The policies and procedures were part of the “Employee Handbook.”
√ The anti-harassment procedures allowed for “multiple, alternative avenues” for an employee to complain about harassing conduct, and these avenues included filing a complaint with supervisors, district and regional managers, or a Vice President. The employer also provided an anonymous, toll-free hotline for purposes of filing a complaint.
√ Plaintiff used the toll-free hotline to report harassment, and the employer responded by immediately initiating an investigation of the matter.
√ Upon completion of the investigation, the employer found that the allegations of harassment were supported.
√ Consistent with its anti-harassment policies and procedures, the employer fired the alleged harasser.

So, having clear, published anti-harassment policies and procedures in place, and following those policies and procedures in a prompt manner when a complaint is made, will enable an employer to successfully minimize the occurrence of, and resolve, complaints of harassment and hostile environment.

About the author.

Seena Foster, award winning author and Partner of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of compliance and civil rights investigations to state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, and non-profit organizations. To that end, she offers one hour Webinars, full-day and half-day in-person training sessions, and mediation services addressing a variety of types of discrimination such as racial discrimination, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and religious discrimination. The federal law on discrimination is complex and affects our workplaces as well as the delivery of our federally funded programs and activities. Her book, Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination, has been described as an “eye-opening” reading experience and a “stand-alone” training resource. Ms. Foster’s resources and materials are designed to support the work of civil rights and discrimination professionals in the public and private sectors. You may contact her through www.titleviconsulting.com.