Law and Public Employees

Job Harassment Scenario
Please read the hypothetical scenario and answer the questions that follow.

Jasmine is an American citizen whose parents immigrated to the United States from Pakistan three years before she was born. After she was born, Jasmine’s parents decided to stay in the United States and become naturalized citizens. Both she and her parents are devout Muslims.

Jasmine has worked for the state Department of Transportation as a civil engineer for two years since graduating from college. Recently when Jasmine’s supervisor moved out of state, the Agency management assigned a temporary replacement named Red–”Big Red” to his friends–to act as supervisor for the division.

Although Red is twenty years older than Jasmine, he develops a crush on her. He asks her to go to lunch and spends a lot of time striking up casual conversations with her. Everyone in Jasmine’s division has noticed what is going on and wishes it would stop because it is creating a tense, unpleasant atmosphere. Jasmine has no interest in Red and is embarrassed by his intentions. An older colleague advises Jasmine to set Big Red straight, and to do so politely and firmly but once and for all. Jasmine does as advised.

Red is an abusive bully who resents not getting his own way in everything. He wants to humiliate Jasmine because he believes she has made him appear foolish to the others by her rejection of his advances. He begins to make snide remarks about Jasmine’s work performance within the hearing of other staff–his comments have no merit and everyone knows it, but no one comes to her defense. Red makes critical comments about Jasmine’s personal appearance, especially her hijab or head scarf. Finally, Red begins making tasteless jokes about the Islamic religion.

Jasmine is finding it difficult to concentrate on her work, especially because of the personal attacks made upon her religious beliefs. Everyone in the division knows what is going on and is sick and tired of it but will not speak up for fear of Red or apathy.

One day, Red tries to coerce Jasmine into making a field trip with him to a road construction project she is helping to design. Jasmine says she does not want to go unless other engineers who are working on the project also go on the trip. Red threatens her with disciplinary action and she leaves his office.

Jasmine sends an e-mail to a co-worker telling her that Red was sexually harassing her and that she had refused to go on a field trip alone with him. Red gets a copy of the e-mail by bullying the recipient. Seeing his chance at last, Red threatens Jasmine with disciplinary action for insubordination.

Jasmine realizes that she has to take a stand and goes to the Director of Human Resources to complain about Red’s behavior towards her. The HR Director has already heard rumors about what has be going on in her division. Nor is it the first time that he has heard this kind of complaint lodged against Red. Also, the HR Director knows that the Agency Director wants to implement a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment right away in order to protect the Agency from lawsuits.

Under the circumstances, things move quickly; Red is reprimanded and removed as acting supervisor. In the meantime, the HR Director is putting together a comprehensive training program on sexual harassment that will be mandatory for all staff to attend.

In order to put together an effective program, what kind of information should the HR Director include? What statute is controlling? How should he define sexual harassment? How would he explain “hostile or abusive work environment?” Why is sexual harassment difficult to define and demonstrate? Would the Agency be liable in this case for the harassing behavior? Must the victim prove damages? What kind of monetary damages is the victim entitled to, should the victim prevail? Will the training program and zero-tolerance policy be a defense in any future case? Why is it important that a policy to address sexual harassment accessible to everyone in the organization? Why should the process of handling sexual harassment complaints be confidential?