Several recent cases have held that individual supervisors can be personally forced to pay damages for violating California’s tough sexual harassment laws. But what if a supervisor simply fails to take action to prevent harassment or doesn’t report it to senior management? The California Court of Appeal recently ruled that supervisors aren’t personally liable unless they actually commit harassment themselves. While this ruling protects supervisors, it could turn out to be bad news for employers. The case involved a Southern California employee of Activision, Inc., who claimed he was sexually harassed by his supervisor and that despite repeated complaints to the supervisor’s boss, nothing was done. The worker sued Activision and both supervisors for harassment. The judge threw out the case against the top manager, finding that merely failing to prevent harassment isn’t enough to warrant personal liability.5 But the court’s ruling has another potential effect. It eliminates a powerful motivation-avoiding personal liability-for non-harassing managers to report and stop improper conduct. The problem this may cause for employers is that you may not find out about the harassment in time to do something about it before the situation escalates into a lawsuit. It’s therefore critical to remind supervisors of their responsibility to report all harassment complaints, and that their failure to take appropriate action to report or stop the offending conduct could be grounds for discipline or termination.
Join us this fall in San Francisco for the California Employment Law Update conference, a 3-day event that will teach you everything you need to know about new laws and regulations, and your compliance obligations, for the year ahead—it’s one-stop shopping at its best.