Earlier this week, two former Jets massage and acupuncture therapists filed a Sexual Harassment Suit against Brett Farve for alleged inappropriate conduct during his time as quarterback of the New York Jets. Do the women have a case?
The therapists’ case is based on their receipt of inappropriate messages from Farve soliciting them to an implied encounter of sexual activity. One of the therapists complained to her spouse who, in turn, approached Farve regarding the messages. The suit alleges that after this complaint the therapists were no longer called to work with the Jets. The suit also alleges that the locker room is “a hotbed of sexual harassment, sexism and inappropriate behavior.”
Keep in mind the following key points to Sexual Harassment law as you form your opinion in this highly publicized suit.
- It is not the intent, but the impact of a person’s actions that determine if harassment occurred. Harassment law is based on how an alleged victim perceives the behavior and if that behavior is welcomed. If a victim is uncomfortable with actions of another person, then it may be found that illegal harassment did occur.
- The Company, the harasser and the Manager can be individually named in a harassment lawsuit. In this case, Mr. Farve, the Jets and the therapist’s manager have been named and if found guilty, will be responsible for paying damages. The Manager has been named in the suit because the alleged victims claim that the work environment was, as the law defines, a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is one in which conduct, pictures, words or touching interferes with a person’s job performance or creates an intimidating or offensive work environment.
- It is illegal to retaliate against an employee for raising a harassment complaint – Once a company or manager becomes aware of a complaint of harassment it is illegal for them to retaliate against the alleged victim. In this case, it is alleged that Farve became aware of the alleged victims’ discomfort through a complaint from one of the alleged victim’s husband and that after that the therapists were no longer called for work with the Jets. It is implied that this is a direct result of Mr. Farve becoming aware of their complaint of his actions.
- General Office Knowledge – an organization is responsible for knowing about the behaviors of their employees if it is believed that there is general office knowledge. For example, if most employees know about a certain situation but just deal with it, then the company is expected to know about it too. In this case, it is alleged that inappropriate behavior is common in the locker room. If most employees are aware of this and nothing was done to address it, it could be found that harassment did occur.
- Bad PR – no matter how you cut it, this suit is damaging to the NFL, the Jets, Mr. Farve and the Manager. Whether or not it is found that harassment occurred in this case, the negative press is not good for anyone’s image.
The moral of the story here is to understand harassment law, enforce it and educate employees about the law and be proactive and aware of potential harassment situations.