Mr. Thomas, a 10 year executive with XYZ Corporation, continued to engage his secretary in a conversation regarding the female body part that was a subject of a recent television program, even after she indicated she did not wish to discuss it further. Mr. Thomas subsequently copied a page from a dictionary containing the name of a body part and gave it to the secretary, which in addition to prior behavior she interpreted as sexual harassment. His employer terminated him because of this incident and other alleged incidents of poor judgment. In a suit for wrongful termination, Mr. Thomas won compensatory damages plus punitive damages against the company and his secretary.

Mr. Thomas, a 10 year executive with XYZ Corporation, continued to engage his secretary in a conversation regarding the female body part that was a subject of a recent television program, even after she indicated she did not wish to discuss it further. Mr. Thomas subsequently copied a page from a dictionary containing the name of a body part and gave it to the secretary, which in addition to prior behavior she interpreted as sexual harassment. His employer terminated him because of this incident and other alleged incidents of poor judgment. In a suit for wrongful termination, Mr. Thomas won compensatory damages plus punitive damages against the company and his secretary.

Discuss the following questions about the case:

1. Do you think Mr. Thomas’ actions constituted sexual harassment? Why or why not?

2. Do you think termination of Mr. Thomas was justified? Why or why not?

3. What factors might have influenced the jury’s decision?

4. Can you share with the class if you, your friend or colleague have had an encounter with a sexual harassment case at work? Do not use names of individuals or businesses.

 

· Please reply to the presented statement(s) below.

 

Deliverable Length: 250 words (minimum) per reply

 

ONE:

I really appreciate that this case study is very close to what many of us could encounter in the world outside our classes. I don’t know if I’m write but I feel very strongly about this case. I invite anyone with an opposing view to engage-I’d love to hear a perspective that differs. I’ll actually seek them in the course of this DB so I can explore both sides. For now, I’ll go with my inclination.

There are two things happening here that are worth mentioning. 1) Mr. Thomas believed that he was in the right and possibly that the secretary was being overly sensitive. After she stated she did not want to discuss it further, the conversation should have ended there. In addition to believing he was in the right, 2) he also wanted to prove he was in the right. This is why he copied a page from the dictionary. He probably saw it as a means of using an objective source to prove she was being overly sensitivity and thus wrong. Either his ego got involved or he found it amusing to continue to engage the secretary.

This is where the majority of my involvement with harassment cases begins. Someone was “just joking” and another person took offense. Rather than chalk it up as the sort of conversation that should not take place at work, the offender feels the need to prove innocence, thus exacerbating the matter. I believe Mr. Thomas actions contributed to a hostile work environment because he pressed the issue.

I think it is also worth noting that even if the secretary did NOT say she didn’t want to discuss it further, Mr. Thomas should understand that if female body part discussions are not part of their work, they don’t belong in discussions at work. Termination may seem extreme and perhaps not fitting of the offense, but I would support this course of action.  As an employer it has to be noted that there is a zero tolerance policy for harassment, in any form, lest the employer leave itself open to claims of negligence or condoning such behavior. In my second post I’ll explore how this may play with a jury. I have not yet had a harassment case go to court so I have to do more research. For now, though, as an HR consultant, I would wholeheartedly support the course of action taken by the employer. It protects employees against harassment of any kind and sends a message that there is no tolerance for inappropriate behavior, regardless of tenure with an organization. To be sure this is the right course, it also stands to reason that a zero-tolerance policy has been communicated to the employees and they have been given adequate information as to what constitutes harassment. According to Wilkie (2015) “One thing that we’ve found is that a clear, well-disseminated and easily accessible anti-harassment policy is key.” This way, all employees understand the policy as well as the consequences and the Mr. Thomas’ of the world know that they should drop it-even if their egos are bruised.

Wilkie, D. (2015, September 16). Tackling a ‘Macho’ Mentality at Work- How do you counter a culture that’s a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/macho-workplaces.aspx

TWO:

In the case of Mr. Thomas and his secretary, I think Mr. Thomas actions constituted sexual harassment because the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcomed sexual advances, and while he did not ask for sexual favors, the secretary told him she no longer wanted to discuss it any further he then made a cop out of a dictionary containing the name of the body part, which in my opinion shows intent to sexual harass his secretary  and because he used the dictionary knew exactly what he was saying had sexual meaning. The EEOC further states that sexual harassment is unwelcomed verbal or physical contact(giving the copy to his secretary) of sexual nature including text messages or images.

Mr. Thomas termination was justified because it was stated that there was prior behavior that she interpreted as sexual harassment and he was termination because of other alleged incidents and poor judgement, that along establishes a history of his behavior. He was also an executive and had authority over his secretary. I personally can not understand why a jury would believe M. Thomas was wrongfully terminated. he created a hostile work environment for his secretary because of his continued behavior.

Factors that may have influenced the the jury’s decision could have been the number of men on the Jury, the believability of the secretary or the fact that there were no other plaintiffs. I do not have an incident to share with an encounter of sexual harassment at work. I feel strongly that rules and guidelines should be firmly in place where it leaves no gray areas in situations like this.

THREE:

I do believe that Mr. Thomas’ actions constituted sexual harassment. The conversation may have stemmed from a tv show, however as soon as his secretary made it known that she did not wish to discuss the show then he should have ended the conversation. He continued to converse with her about the female body part and then took it a step further by making a copy from a dictionary of the word of that body part. This was definitely sexual harassment and shows a lack of respect.

I do believe that the termination was justified. The lack of respect and creating a hostile work environment is detrimental to the company as a whole. The company did the right thing in terminating Mr. Thomas. This shows that they have zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior and that they take complaints seriously and wish to protect their employees.

Some factors that may have influenced the jury’s decision could be lack of evidence to support the sexual harassment, Mr. Thomas’ history with the company over 10 years could have no other issues or complaints, or the company may not have followed some type of policy in how they deal with issues. For instance, some companies have policies that state that an employee will receive a written reprimand first and if the issue occurs again, then they will be terminated. These are just a few factors that may have played a role in the decision.

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