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At What Level Of Management Is Knowledge Of Sexual Harassment Attributed To A Company?

Published by on June 12, 2009

The Third Circuit recently resolved a sexual harassment case against the employee/plaintiff, concluding that someone higher in authority than a “supervisor” must have knowledge of the harassment and/or complaint in order for that knowledge to be imputed to the company under general agency principles.  The case is Huston v. Proctor & Gamble Paper Prods. Corp. […]

The Third Circuit recently resolved a sexual harassment case against the employee/plaintiff, concluding that someone higher in authority than a “supervisor” must have knowledge of the harassment and/or complaint in order for that knowledge to be imputed to the company under general agency principles.  The case is Huston v. Proctor & Gamble Paper Prods. Corp. (opinion here).  More after the break.

The court concluded that to impute an executive’s knowledge to the employer, the executive must be:

“sufficiently senior in the employer’s governing hierarchy, or otherwise in a position of administrative responsibility over employees under him, such as a departmental or plant manager, so that such knowledge is important to the employee’s general managerial duties. In this case, the employee usually has the authority to act on behalf of the employer to stop the harassment, for example, by disciplining employees or by changing their employment status or work assignments. The employee’s knowledge of sexual harassment is then imputed to the employer because it is significant to the employee’s general mandate to manage employer resources, including human resources.”

As Law.com notes, “[a]pplying that test, [the court] concluded that plaintiff . . . failed to show that she complained to management about the allegedly hostile environment she worked in until June 2004, and that P&G responded quickly by beginning an investigation that quickly led to discipline.  That finding proved fatal for [plaintiff’s] claim, which hinged on evidence that her complaints to two supervisors had fallen on deaf ears and that she was forced to endure more harassment.”

Law.com has a story on the case here.  Blog summary of the case here.  As the blogger notes, it will be interesting to see if this standard is adopted by other circuits because it does raise the bar for sexual harassment plaintiffs.

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