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Pine Circle Unified School District

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Although legislation addressed sexual harassment nearly fifty years ago; it is remarkable the number of employee and employers who choose to negate the Civil Rights Act. “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees that employers will provide a workplace free of sexual harassment. Harassment is divided into two categories: hostile work environment and quid pro quo” (Yasgoor & Bressler, p. 128). In the case study analyzed sexual harassment will fall within the category of hostile work environment. In brief, Peter Lewiston, a widow and slightly older gentleman was terminated for violating Pine Circle Unified School District sexual harassment policy. Beverly Gilbury, a married woman in her late twenties and teacher for the school was the accuser. Before the harassment began, Lewiston and Gilbury had a relationship indicative of co-workers. However, at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, Gilbury felt Lewiston’s behavior began to change and she felt as if he viewed her as more than a co-worker. Gilbury was uncomfortable with the affection Lewiston displayed and Gilbury obtained an injunction from the Court and filed a complaint of sexual harassment with the district’s EEOC officer.

According to the EEOC website sexual harassment states, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature” (“Sexual Harassment,” n.d.). Although, Peter Lewiston’s intentions were not as clear as the explanation of harassment from the EEOC, it is clear his actions made Beverley Gilbury uncomfortable. After the first incident, Lewiston was reminded by Gilbury, “Remember, Peter, we’re just friends.” Obviously, Gilbury believed Lewiston’s actions were beginning to cross the line of normal co-worker relationship. Sexual harassment is a critical issue for HR which can have severe costs to an organization. Similar to the victim, the employer can experience emotional, physical and economic damages. The National Women’s Law Center explains employers can see a decrease in work group productivity, negative work atmosphere, and financial losses from job turnover or use of sick leave (“Workplace,” 2000).

Often, the HR department is the first point of contact for the claimant. If HR did not have an active role in policy and prevention development, HR might find they lack necessary qualifications to investigate the claim. Often HR is designated to develop policy, provide training, and assist in investigating sexual harassment claims. In this case, the District had a sexual harassment policy however it is unclear if the policy contained the necessary elements or if employees received harassment training. It is important for HR to develop a comprehensive document that includes no less than a clear definition of harassment, procedure for prevention, and how to make a claim. A document will only be as good as the paper it is printed on if employees do not receive harassment training or are unsure if retaliation will come to them for making a claim. When HR receives a claim, normal human behaviors will come into question. In a society where flirtation and inter-office romance is the norm, HR is tasked with understanding a great deal of interpretation. In this case, HR will determine the reason for Lewiston’s actions are irrelevant since Gilbury clearly did not solicit such behavior.

Gilbury felt Lewiston’s actions created a hostile work environment and the rapid elevation of his actions could be perceived by her as obsessive. Besides the other facts in the case, Gilbury’s perception will play a major role in HR’s investigation. Being this is not a quid pro quo case, Lewiston’s senior position will not play a factor in the investigation. As Lewiston is found guilty of sexual harassment by creating a hostile work environment, HR will need to refer to Organizational policy regarding discipline. Besides the actual investigation invoking the proper discipline could be the most difficult task. If an Organization adopted a zero tolerance policy regarding harassment; the discipline given is clear and termination is the only option. However, not all Organizations have such a clear policy. The course of action chosen could have implications for the Organization and their employees. Too harsh of a discipline could make employees fearful they themselves may communicate the “wrong message” verbally or physically.

This hypersensitivity will have a negative consequence for the Organization and effect the work environment. Likewise, too little discipline may send the wrong message and employees may believe the Organization tolerates improper behavior and lacks empathy for the victim. With a review of all the facts including Lewiston’s length of service and job performance, termination might be extreme. Lewiston is a long-term employee who lacks negative reviews and displays above-average work performance. His behavior changed quickly over a period of months which could indicate Lewiston is struggling with personal issues.

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