By Kathleen Jennings (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Some cases just make me shake my head. Today I read about a lawsuit filed by a female supplier engineer against Trane U.S., Inc. for sexual harassment. (Arrindell v. Trane U.S., Inc., W.D. Tenn., No. 2:18-cv-02164, complaint filed 3/9/18). What did her manager do? He programmed his phone to play a ringtone that mimicked the sound of a woman having an orgasm. (I had no idea this was even a thing). The Plaintiff alleges that she told him she found it offensive, but the manager kept playing the ringtone and also tried to engage her in sex talk.
To make matters worse, according to the Complaint, the plaintiff complained to HR, but the HR representative kept putting her off. In the meantime, the plaintiff alleges that after she complained, the manager reduced her engineering role and responsibilities and ordered her to perform non-engineering work outside her job scope, including daily work in the warehouse.
Can a company be liable for a manager’s tasteless ringtone? Yes, it can. This case demonstrates the importance of promptly responding to an employee’s complaint of sexual harassment.
The takeaway: If a manager really thinks it is OK to play a ringtone that mimics the sound of a woman having an orgasm in the workplace, this is a sign that the company’s culture needs some serious work. Creating and reinforcing a company culture that emphasizes respect for all employees is the first step toward eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.
Kathleen Jennings, Principal is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. She defends employers in sexual harassment and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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