Employers: An Anti-discrimination Policy in Your Employee Handbook is Not Enough

A recent decision of the Northern District of Ohio illustrates the importance for employers to publicize and enforce their anti-discrimination policies in order to avoid liability for discrimination. In EEOC v. Dave's Supermarkets, Inc., No. 1:09 CV 2199 (N.D. Ohio March 1, 2011), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against an employer, alleging that it created a sexually hostile work environment. Several employees complained that their manager subjected them to unwanted sexually explicit comments and sexual behavior. The employer moved for summary judgment on the EEOC’s claim for punitive damages based upon its good faith efforts to comply with Title VII, which prohibits sex discrimination. The court denied the employer’s motion. It noted that, in determining whether an employer made a good faith effort to comply with the law, it looks to:

(1)   Whether the employer has a written anti-discrimination policy;

(2)   Whether the policy is effectively publicized; and

(3)   Whether the policy is effectively enforced.

The employer in this case had a written anti-discrimination policy in its employee handbook, which the employees received during their initial orientation. But the court found evidence that the employer failed to effectively enforce this policy: Employees testified that the employer did not promptly investigate and address allegations of sexual harassment and did not provide adequate sexual harassment training to its managers. Therefore, the court refused to grant summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages.

The lesson for employers here is that simply having an anti-discrimination policy in their employee handbooks is not enough. To prove they made a good faith effort to comply with the law, employers must actually enforce this policy by training their employees and promptly addressing any harassment complaints.

Contact: Nathan_Pangrace

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