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Firing workplace harasser may not be enough to avoid responsibility

A recent Virginia case highlights the importance of addressing reported harassment in the workplace quickly and supervising your managers in the process. It also shows that even eventually firing the harasser won’t be enough to shield you from liability if you didn’t respond sufficiently at first.

In this case, employee Perry Funk claims that a male coworker subjected him to sexually inappropriate conduct, including opening his fly and thrusting his crotch in Funk’s face and grabbing and jerking Funk’s underwear. The co-worker also falsely and repeatedly told fellow employees that he and Funk had sex, according to Funk.

Funk reported these incidents to HR when his supervisor didn’t address the situation. After an internal investigation confirmed that Funk had not only complained to the supervisor, but that the supervisor had actually witnessed the misconduct, both the co-worker and supervisor were fired.

Funk sued the employer in federal court, claiming a “hostile work environment” — a situation in which harassment was so pervasive it was unbearable to work there.

The employer tried to get the case thrown out, citing the strong action it took once Funk took his complaints to HR. But the court sided with Funk, finding that the supervisor’s inaction was enough for the case to proceed. Now, Funk will get the chance to bring his case to trial, which could be costly.

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