Businesses must investigate harassment even if they’re skeptical

A company has a legal obligation to investigate all claims of harassment fairly and objectively – even if the company is initially skeptical and thinks the claim is bogus.

That’s the upshot of a recent case involving a Massachusetts hospital.

Michael Saxe was a security guard who claimed he was sexually harassed at work by a female co-worker after he declined to get involved with her. He complained to his boss, and the hospital’s HR director conducted an investigation.

But according to Saxe, the hospital simply wouldn’t believe that a man could be a victim of sexual harassment. As a result, he claimed, the hospital conducted a biased investigation, refusing to interview witnesses Saxe had suggested or to read the text messages and Facebook posts the female co-worker had allegedly sent to Saxe and his mother.

When Saxe chose not to ask for an extension of the court order he had obtained against the co-worker, the HR director allegedly commented that this was “good news,” because “it blows up his whole case.”

Saxe was eventually fired. He sued, claiming the firing was illegal because it was in retaliation for bringing the harassment complaint.

A jury awarded Saxe $57,000 for his back pay and emotional distress, and an extra $200,000 to punish the hospital for its conduct. A judge upheld the award, saying the hospital’s behavior had been “outrageous.”