How to deal with sexual harassment outside of the workplace? It is well-settled law in California under the Fair Employment and Housing Act as well as the California Government Code § 12940(k) that an employer owes a duty to their employees to prevent harassment within the workplace. But what if an employee is sexually harassed off-site yet within a work capacity? This may be a situation where an employee is not at work but he or she is carrying out tasks or participating in functions that are work-related. More importantly, are employees the only individuals who are covered by the law in this area? What about applicants? In a heavily populated State such as California, the job market can be fierce and highly competitive, making it difficult for job-seekers to get their foot in the door. As a result, these applicants seeking jobs are vulnerable to illegal hiring processes which promote discrimination and sexual harassment. In these situations, employers are liable for the acts of their own employees who posses hiring power and abuse this power. When issues such as these arise, reaching out to a local Sexual Harassment Attorney is the best way to find out if further legal action should be taken.
An employer or organization is responsible for and held accountable for the acts of their employees whom they have delegated hiring power to within the workplace. The Court in the case Doe v Capitol Cities, 50, Cal. App. 4th 1038 had to address this issue of just how far an employer’s liability extends in these “off-site” situations. In that case, the plaintiff was an actor who was applying, or rather auditioning for a role which took place on a Sunday at the casting director’s home. During this encounter, the plaintiff alleged that he was drugged and gang raped by the casting director as well as four other men. The plaintiff brought an action against the employer of the company, inter alia, for violating the California Government Code § 12940 (h). Under that regulation, it is illegal for an employer or organization to retaliate against an applicant or employee because the applicant or employee made a complaint against the employer or organization for unlawful practices. The action was brought against the employer who oversaw the casting director because it was ultimately the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the workplace was harassment-free. In this case, the Court of Appeal decided that the plaintiff did have a case if he could provide evidence that his allegations were true, then as a result, strict liability would be placed upon the employer. This meant that the plaintiff in this case only had to prove that the acts actually took place and that the employer was responsible for the casting director’s acts, and it did not matter what the employer knew or was supposed to have known about the casting director’s tendencies. Today, if an employee was in a similar situation when attempting to apply for a position and was subjected to such treatment, they should reach out to a Sexual Harassment Attorney to discuss their case.
But how could the employer be held liable for what happened at the casting director’s home and on a Sunday? The Court reviewed the facts and evidence of the case and was able to conclude that the casting director was acting within his capacity as an employee because he was locating, discovering, training, and acquiring actors, just as he did to the plaintiff. Therefore, even though the incident did not occur at the actual work-site, nevertheless the casting director was acting as an agent for his boss. Importantly, the Court did take into account that the incident took place off-site, and it also occurred outside of work hours. However, the Court found that because the casting director’s acts were so closely related to his position of employment that it did not absolve the employer of responsibility. Lastly, it is significant to take note that the plaintiff, in this case, was not an actual employee of the company when the incident took place. The court also took this into account that the plaintiff was not an applicant yet decided that this did not matter and the employer of the company remained liable for the casting director’s behavior. This was because the plaintiff was in pursuit of employment which placed both the plaintiff and the casting director in a work-related context.
Here in California, under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employer’s liability for sexual harassment extends to managers, supervisors, and controllers who foster a hostile work environment. Per Title VII, a manager is seen as acting for the employer when generating this hostile work environment, therefore the employer can be held vicariously liable. Under the California Government Code § 12926(t) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the definition of “supervisor” is much broader and considers this title to be anyone who has hiring power, a power to transfer an employee, fire an employee, demote an employee, or even a power to reward an employee.
Liability at the federal level is slightly different. In a particular federal case, an employee was a lifeguard and employed by the city. She brought a suit against her employer because she felt that she was being subjected to a sexually charged as well as hostile work environment which was created by her supervisors. The environment at issue was considered hostile because the supervisors were causing the particular employee and other employees to experience unwanted touching. Here the employee made a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq for these acts and the environment imposed on her as an employee. The Court, in this case, found that the employee who brought the action had a claim against her employer by extending the employer’s liability to cover the supervisor’s acts Faragher v City of Boca Raton (1998) 524 US 775, 807, 118 S. Ct. 2275, 2292-2293. A Sexual Harassment Attorney would be able to evaluate an employee’s case for free if they have a similar problem at work and may be able to file suit against the company.