Supervisor's Affairs In The Workplace Create Hostile Work Environment For Other Women
The case was brought by two former workers at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla who said their jobs became intolerable after prison warden Lewis Kuykendall became sexually involved with three female staff members, who received favorable job assignments and promotions.
In ruling that the two plaintiffs, both women, could claim they were harassed, the court determined that consensual workplace relationships can rise to the level of a hostile work environment when "the demeaning message is conveyed to female employees that they are viewed by management as 'sexual playthings' " - or when employees perceive that women must have a sexual relationship with a supervisor to get ahead.
But the court's ruling appeared to establish an almost numeric standard for when such messages are conveyed. In its ruling, the court distinguished between a single, isolated affair between a boss and employee that normally would not constitute sexual harassment and what it called "widespread" sexual favoritism.
An attorney for the plaintiffs was thrilled by the ruling. "This says you don't have to be the subject of unwanted sexual advances to show there was a hostile work environment," said lawyer Barbara Lawless.
While it appears that this particular case is unique with its facts, the ruling could open yet another avenue potential plaintiffs may use to bring lawsuits. The California Supreme Court announced this ruling today, and the Employment Law Observer will post more information about the potential effects it may have on California employers soon.