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By Bob Mionske
I work on the floor of a large retail bicycle shop. I love my job,but have a problem with one of the managers. Since I began here, over ayear ago, he has been making sexual comments. I used to simply laugh athim, but recently, he tried to kiss me and I need this to stop.What should I do?
Mashed in MinneapolisDear M in M,
This is a sensitive area with most people having a canned responsesrunning the gambit from “ he should be strung up” to “political correctnessis ruining America.” My view is somewhere in the middle and depends onthe facts and circumstances. For instance, I believe this kind of harassmentis all too common, but acknowledge that the laws to protect such victimscan be abused for revenge or personal gain. So what to do?From your question it seems you simply want the harassment to stop andthis may be accomplished by confronting your manager directly. If you havealready taken this step, you should consider reporting the manager’s behaviorto his supervisor. In any event, it sounds like you have a potentiallyviable sexual harassment claim. Because it is your manager who is harassingyou, the company is technically already liable for sexual harassment versusthe case of a non-manager, co-worker harassing you in which case the companyonly becomes liable when it is put on notice via your complaints. Is therean employee handbook that addresses the issue of sexual harassment? Ifnot, the company is in even bigger trouble. If there is such a handbook,consult it and see what the steps are for complaining and to whom you shouldregister a complaint.
I would recommend that you put your complaint in writing to the mostappropriate individual. If it is the manager/harasser, give the complaintto the next in charge. Wait to see what happens. In other words, sinceyou like your job, see if the company fixes the problem before you pursuelegal action. Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised. Maybe you will not.If not, and if the harassment continues or changes form into more retaliatoryacts for having complained, and then you should consider hiring a lawyer.If you are retaliated against, you will have that additional claim as well.Sexual harassment is against both state and federal laws. Under thefederal law, Title VII, of the Civil Rights Act, the company may be heldliable if you are able to demonstrate that you have been the victim of”unwelcome” sexual conduct. Typically, the employer/defendant will simplydeny that the sexual harassment occurred. The next most common defenseis to assert that the conduct was not unwelcome and was, in fact, mutual.In situations where the accuser has participated in sexual banter withthe harasser, it is more difficult to prove that the conduct was unwelcome.
Under state and federal law, you may be entitled to economic damages(for lost wages); damages for mental anguish; attorney’s fees and costs;and, possibly punitive damages, which are more likely to be awarded ifthe conduct is extremely egregious and, often times, when the company didnot have a handbook addressing harassment.Pursuing a sexual harassment claim can be a long and arduous journeywith the outcome far from certain. I have offered a range of actions, butonly you can decide how to proceed.
Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.
The information provided in the “Legally speaking” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.