Articles Posted in Hostile Work Environment

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Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee with respect to his/her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the employee’s sex or gender. In such a circumstance, an employer is liable for a hostile work environment created by one or more of its supervisors if the employee suffering the discrimination establishes that: 1) the employee suffered intentional discrimination because of his/her sex, 2) the discrimination was severe or pervasive, 3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff, 4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person in like circumstances, and 5) the existence of a respondeat superior relationship between the harasser and the victim employee. “Under respondeat superior, an employer can be found liable for the negligence of an employee causing injuries to third parties, if, at the time of the occurrence, the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment.” Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us, Inc., 132 N.J. 587, 619 (1993).

To establish the existence of respondeat superior liability – namely, employer liability for a supervisor’s unlawful actions or inactions – a victimized employee needs to show that the supervisor acted as the employer’s agent. Usually, to be considered an employer’s agent the worker needed to have acted within the scope of employment. See Restatement (Second) of Agency § 219(2)(d) (Am. Law Inst. 1958). However, even if the supervisor acts outside the scope of employment, the employer can still be found liable. This is because under § 219(2)(d) of the Second Restatement, an employer may be liable when employees act outside the scope of their employment if they were “aided in accomplishing the tort by the existence of the agency relation.” Stated differently, even acting outside the scope of their employment, if the employee used their position as the agent of the employer to inflict harm against a subordinate the employer can be liable.

Recently the Third Circuit in, Moody v. Atl. City Bd. of Educ., No. 16-4373, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 17191, at *1 (3d Cir. Sep. 6, 2017), reversed and remanded to trial a district court’s dismissal of a complaint brought by a temporary fill-in employee against a public entity employer alleging her or foreman sexually harassed her.  Specifically, a custodian foreman named Marshall worked for the Atlantic City Board of Education (“ACBOE”) and oversaw scheduling the substitute custodian hours, and demanded sexual favors from Plaintiff Moody, a temporary school custodian, in exchange for favorable work schedules. When Moody refused Marshall’s demands, Marshall stopped scheduling Moody for work. Initially, the district court dismissed liability against the ACBOE finding there was no respondeat superior relationship because Marshall was not Moody’s supervisor, and therefore, the ACBOE was not liable for what Marshall had done. However, the Third Circuit reversed, concluding Marshall was in fact Moody’s supervisor because Marshall was the one who controlled whether Moody would work or not. Since Moody was a temp/fill-in worker Marshall controlled whether Moody worked at all – not  just (what an average foreman controls) deciding which hours and days she worked – this gave Marshall “supervisor” status. The court then held “[w]hen a supervisor takes a tangible employment action against a subordinate, the employer is vicariously liable because the injury could not have been inflicted absent the agency relation.” Since Marshall used his position as foreman under the ACBOE to demand sexual favors in return for providing Moody work, the ACBOE was found to be liable for Marshall’s actions.