Automatic Liability for Businesses When Supervisors Commit Harass or Take Discriminatory Conduct against Employees

Liability for harassment by supervisors

The EEOC states that, harassment is a pervasive employment problem. There are different types of harassment such as sexual harassment and racial harassment. Employers who commit harassment or who are responsible for the acts of the supervisors or workers can be found liable for economic damages, statutory damages, and other damages based on various federal and state laws.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Supreme Court of the US ruled (in several cases) that employers are subject to vicarious liability for unlawful harassment by supervisors.

More specifically, the Supreme Court held that “an employer is always liable for a supervisor’s harassment if it culminates in a tangible employment action.” However, if it does not, the employer may be able to avoid liability or limit damages by establishing an affirmative defense that includes two necessary elements:

  • “the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing behavior, and
  • the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.”

Vicarious liability is also called the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Examples of tangible employment actions, according to the EEOC, include making decisions about:

  • hiring and firing;
  • promotion and failure to promote;
  • demotion
  • undesirable reassignment
  • a decision causing a significant change in benefits
  • compensation decisions
  • work assignments

Liability for harassment by employees

Generally, employers are liable for harassment by a coworker (who is not a supervisor) only if the employer knew or should have known of the misconduct and the employer then failed to take immediate steps to correct the misconduct.

A constant issue in employment cases is whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. Thanks to recent California courts cases and statutes, more and more workers are being classified as employees.

At the California Law Offices of Stephan A. Danz and Associates, our experienced discrimination and harassment employment lawyers understand how to prove a defendant’s financial condition after liability has been established. For help now, call us at 877-789-9707 or complete our online contact form to make an appointment.