Take Harassment Claims Seriously or Pay the Price in Millions in Business and at Work

Harassed jail guard gets $3M

Appeals court increases damages to be paid to former Rensselaer County female officer

Published 11:19 pm, Thursday, August 13, 2015

A state appeals court issued a decision Thursday sharply increasing the financial damages Rensselaer County must pay a former female jail sergeant who was subjected to severe sexual harassment by a group of male officers at the facility.

The ruling by the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Albany entitles the former sergeant, Lora Abbott Seabury, to more than $3 million, including a lump sum of up to $1.46 million — payable by Rensselaer County — for the state pension she would have received if she had stayed on the job. The decision also increased the amount of lost wages the county must pay Seabury — by $264,600 — to $580,995.

The damages also include several hundred thousand dollars in interest.

In 2013, an administrative law judge with the state Division of Human Rights determined Seabury was harassed by a clique of jail officers known as the “Boys Club” and that top sheriff’s officials at the jail engaged in “deliberate inaction” in dealing with the harassment of Seabury.

…The harassment against Seabury peaked in 2010 when, as a watch commander, she filed disciplinary action against two officers who were sleeping on duty.

…Seabury said the harassment intensified and she took her complaints to a captain, Harold Smith, who a judge found did nothing to stop the abuse and told Seabury to “be tough.”

Source: Albany Times Union – emphasis mine.

The most expensive risk that any business owner, leader, manager or supervisor can take is to receive a complaint of sexual and/or other harassment and then do nothing, as illustrated once again by this recent $3 million example.

How can you save your organization $3 million? By having:

  • A crystal-clear policy against harassment, which includes and explicitly explains prohibited behaviors against protected classes of employees on the state and federal level, including but not limited to:
    • Race
    • Gender
    • Sexual Orientation
    • Age
    • Pregnancy
    • Ethnic Origin
    • Religion; and

provides a due-process for reporting complaints; and if upon investigation determines that harassment has occurred,  how the organization will remediate and prevent the recurrence of such harassment, e.g. – the harassment must stop, either via disciplinary action against or termination of the harasser;

  • Following through on your own Harassment Prevention policy, taking every harassment complaint seriously, immediately investigating the complaint and if found to be valid, remediating the harassment via clear communication, discipline and/or termination, to ensure that the harassment is not repeated and that the complainant does not experience retaliation;
  •  Training every supervisor of people at every level on at least an annual basis of their responsibility re: the above to immediately report any harassment complaints to the organization’s HR and Operations leadership;
  • Training every employee upon hire and then annually on what constitutes harassing behavior in the workplace, including but not limited to:
    • Sexually-laden emails, or sexting;
    • Harassing jokes or comments;
    • Casual discussions at work about employees’ sex lives;
    • Discriminatory remarks about employees’ gender, race, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, etc.;
    • Touching;
    • Supervisors dating their employees;
    • Supervisors failing to take immediate action on harassment complaints and/or harassing behavior.

What actions will you take this week to save your organization millions of dollars by preventing and remediating harassing behavior in your workplace in business and at work?

Group of serious businesspeople interacting at meeting

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