What Are the Consequences of Employing a Repeater Harasser?

Written by Galen T. Shimoda and Jennet F. Zapata

Employees who feel they are being sexually harassed may file a complaint with their supervisor or with a human resources representative. The employer should investigate the complaint and find that an agent actually engaged in sexual harassment, but the company may retain the harasser employed. This situation can be problematic for an employer if it does not take all the necessary steps to ensure that harassment of other employees does not occur. It can subject such an employer to liability for failure to prevent other harassment and risk being subject to punitive damages awards.

In California, it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring. The steps an employer takes to prevent harassment, as well as the actions taken to investigate and remedy charges of harassment, are important when determining whether the employer has reasonably prevented sexual harassment in the workplace. An employer must take immediate and appropriate action to correct an unlawful work environment.

Claims for sexual harassment may be based on preferential treatment or sexual favoritism of those who engage in sexual affairs in the workplace. Such preferential treatment is demeaning to women because it sends a message that managers view women as “sexual playthings,” or that the way to advance in the company is to engage in sexual conduct with managers. Sexual favoritism can create a demeaning work environment.

Punitive damages may be awarded in sexual harassment cases if the employer had advance knowledge that an employee is likely to sexually harass others, and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent such conduct. Evidence that other individuals were subject to discriminatory conduct may be admissible in court to show that the individual had a discriminatory motive. Such evidence may show that the employer was aware of the harasser’s behavior and did not take the necessary steps to prevent it from occurring again. Punitive damages are designed to punish the employer for its conscious disregard of the rights of others and the damages can be hefty. For these reasons, an employer faces significant risks when it employs a person who has been found to engage in sexual harassment of others in the workplace. The employer must be very cautious in order to comply with its legal obligations.

If you think you may have potential claims, contact our office to have your claims evaluated.


The Shimoda Law Corp. legal articles should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents of these articles are intended for general information purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and any specific legal questions you may have.

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