Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has cast a spotlight on the realities of sexual harassment in the United States and has changed how allegations of sexual harassment are treated. Those changes are now affecting how courts view sexual harassment claims by employees in the workplace.
In Minarsky v. Susquehanna County, Ms. Minarsky, a female employee working as a part-time secretary, alleged that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor, the director of the Susquehanna County Department of Veteran Affairs. The harassment allegedly occurred throughout the four years Ms. Minarsky worked for her supervisor and included sexually explicit e-mails, attempts to kiss her and embraces from behind. Ms. Minarsky wanted none of her employer’s harassing advances, yet she did not immediately complain about the sexual harassment because her supervisor was a repeat offender and she feared retaliation, including losing her job.
Ms. Minarsky’s supervisor was eventually fired and she quit a few years later. After quitting, Ms. Minarsky filed a lawsuit against Susquehanna County regarding the alleged sexual harassment. The trial judge overseeing Ms. Minarsky’s case dismissed her complaint, finding that Ms. Minarsky waited too long to complain of the harassment.
The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ms. Minarsky and reversed the dismissal. The appeals court held that a jury must decide whether Ms. Minarsky’s failure to report the sexual harassment was reasonable because of her specific fears of retaliation, including her supervisor’s position and the fact that he harassed other female employees without being disciplined. In support of its decision, the appeals court referenced the recent revelations of rampant sexual harassment spotlighted by the #MeToo movement and the real fear of retaliation that the victims of sexual harassment feel.
This is an important decision that has the potential to change the way courts handle allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly those that went unreported because of fear of retaliation by the harasser and/or the employer.
If you have been subjected to sexual harassment by your employer, the attorneys at Lebau & Neuworth may be able to help. We are experienced with handling sexual harassment claims. For more information, contact us at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.