One of the wonderful things about employment law is that employers have several ways to avoid liability for "stupid" things management might do. One big tool in the employer’s arsenal is the prompt remedial action. If an employee complains about harassment, the employer can investigate and then take "prompt remedial" action. If the employer does so, then it will avoid liability entirely. In Williams-Boldware v. Denton County, 741 F.3d 635 (5th Cir. 2014), that is what the employer did. Denton County took prompt action. The employee might have preferred other steps, but the employer did take some action right after the plaintiff complained.
The plaintiff, an African-American female, was subjected to racist comments by a co-worker. A accused felon had made several racist statements toward the white policemen who arrested her. The incident made a male Assistant District Attorney understand why "people hung people from trees" and made him want to go home and put on his "white pointy hat." Ms. Williams-Boldware, also an Assistant District Attorney, complained to County officials. Within 24 hours of her complaint, the higher officials met with the plaintiff and the offending employee. The offending attorney was made to apologize to the African-American attorney. They also required the offending attorney to take diversity training. The offending attorney received a verbal reprimand.
The plaintiff did not experience any additional harassment. The male attorney did make one joke later about the training he was forced to take.
Even so, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The jury awarded Ms. Williams-Boldware $170,000 for past emotional suffering, another $170,000 for physical pain and suffering, and $170,000 for future emotional suffering.
The Fifth Circuit overturned the jury decision. It found that the County’s response to her complaint could not have been more prompt. The County allowed Ms. Willimas-Boldware to fully explain what she experienced. It consulted with her regarding what should be done. The County took the plaintiff’s concerns seriously and its remedial efforts did effectively end the harassment.
See decision here. www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/13/13-40044-CV0.pdf