Employers who have not taken steps to prevent sexual harassment on the job could face liability suits with high damage awards to victims, according to Lynn J. Lund, inspector general for the Utah Department of Corrections.
Lund said the U.S. Supreme Court has reiterated its position in sexual harassment cases, and the recent rulings mean business owners should become acquainted with the rulings so they can institute policies to prevent problems.Speaking during a seminar sponsored by the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Lund said that two years ago a sexual harassment victim had to prove he or she provided "something for something" in order to prevail in a lawsuit. For example, a woman had to prove she was required to provide sexual favors for her employer in order to keep her job.
In June 1986, Lund said the high court issued another decision, which said any act that creates a hostile environment in the workplace can constitute sexual harassment. "What the court is saying is that sexual harassment constitutes more than a touch, pat or pinch," Lund said.
Three months ago, the high court ruled in another case that employers could be held liable if they failed to discover any sexual harassment in their company when it existed. As a result of that ruling, Lund predicts that damage awards could be staggering.
However, Lund said surveys indicate that most victims aren't interested in monetary damages. They just want a court to issue a "cease and desist order" to prevent further occurrences of the sexual harassment, he said.
"The U.S. Supreme Court is embarking on a new era of social change and it's up to employers to follow the guidelines," Lund said. That means it's easier to prevent problems that to face a lawsuit, he said.