Employees in New Jersey may be affected by a Feb. 11 court decision that may make it harder to hold employers accountable for management personnel who commit sexual harassment offenses. Judges claimed that the recent decision could help motivate employers to uphold anti-harassment policies that are effective, as well as hold employees accountable for being prompt and responding appropriately when there is a sexual harassment issue. The dissenting judges contended that the ruling could set the many employees back several decades.
In 1993, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that employers may be held vicariously liable for supervisors who commit sexual harassment offenses and create a hostile work environment. However, the recent ruling noted that a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court decision held that employers could avoid being held liable if they exercised reasonable care to prevent the behavior and responded appropriately, or if the employee failed to utilize the preventative or corrective measures provided at the workplace.
Dissenting judges claimed that the ruling could provide abusive supervisors who create hostile work conditions with more protection. The recent ruling was the result of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a New Jersey correctional officer claiming that another officer and supervisor subjected her to hostile working conditions. Court documents stated that in 1999 the state's corrections department established a written policy to prohibit these types of discrimination-related incidents. Judges found that she was aware of the policy, but did not file a complaint or respond appropriately.
Employers who feel targeted by sexual harassment allegations usually benefit from consulting legal counsel. Lawyers might be able to investigate the allegations and help develop a sexual harassment claims defense for employers accused of violating state or federal laws.
Source: NJ.com, "N.J. Supreme Court toughens standards in some sexual harassment cases", Brent Johnson, Feb. 12, 2015