The state appeals court in Austin looks at what is sexual harassment and what is not. Sex harassment refers to the situation in which a woman (or a man) is harassed without explicit requirement of a sexual relationship. Sex harassment simply refers to harassment short of an explicit relationship. in Twigland Fashions, Ltd. v. Miller, the state Third Court of Appeals looked at a 49 day period in which a regional manager focused his attentions on a female store manager. He hugged her twice – two "full body hugs." He told he loved her. He told her she had to kiss him whenever she made a mistake. Mike Mslanka discusses the case in his recent post. The supervisor came up behind the female employee and wrapped his arms around her and pressed his body against hers. She was fired after she spent two weeks avoiding the regional manager.
But, the employee also testified that she could perform her work just fine when the regional manager was gone. He only came to the store once or twice a month. To constitute sexual harassment under Title VII or Texas Labor Code Art. 21, the harassment must rise to the level such that it affects the terms and conditions of her employment. The court said the harassment must be so extreme and abusive that it deprives the victim of an equal opportunity in the workplace. The court found that since the employee could perform her tasks well in the absence of the male supervisor, then her work conditions were not affected.
Mike Maslanka describes this court decision in positive terms. Of course, I represent employees mostly and find the decision troubling. If the woman must fear every visit from this supervisor, are not her working conditions affected? If she must work so hard to avoid him when he is present in the store, are not her working conditions affected? Mike does not mention that the victim, a store manager who had been promoted by the regional manager, believed that the supervisor was suggesting that she cooperate with him if she wanted continued promotions. See court decision.
As Mike points out, this standard should be the same standard for racial victims, too. He is right. It should be. But, we know that the standard used in this Miller case is not the same standard. In a race or national origin case, it would be enough that the supervisor made disparaging comments about a man’s race or national origin. It would be enough if the supervisor suggested a deal with an employee, cooperate with him outside the office and promotions would continue. But, because this case is sexual harassment, these facts are not enough. The Miller court is applying a higher standard. If this were not a sex harassment case, most courts would find the working conditions have been adversely affected in this work environment.
The jury apparently agreed with me. In this case, the appeals court took away the jury verdict. As I have mentioned before, many juries understand the realities of the workplace better than many judges.