After a district court in Baltimore’s initial decision concerning sexual harassment favored the defendant, an appeal was immediately filed. The appeal hearing ended in favor of the former employee. Back and forth decisions like this are unusual, but happen from time to time.
The case involves a woman that was hired as an executive assistant for Baltimore, Maryland's Commission on aging and Retirement, or CARE. A few months after she was hired, her boss began hitting on her and making sexual propositions to her. Most of the time he was making her the center of his fantasy, involving a night in a hot tub. The weeks that passed while she worked were filled with this type of sexual harassment, including sexually charged jokes, and even asking if she was wearing underwear that day.
Her supervisor would often tell stories of his sexual experiences, including stories of a mother and daughter, which like her, were of African-American descent. While offering these propositions, he would often touch her leg and even touch her under the table during company meetings. She soon discussed the opportunity to switch to another department, which was quickly forgotten by her superiors. A few months after attempting to change departments, her boss forced himself upon her and kissed her. The next day, she told boss that she wanted only a professional relationship, which he responded by telling her his hot tub fantasy once again.
The victim emailed the Executive Director of CARE twice, both times complaining of harassment. She just didn’t stop there though; she also got in contact with the First Deputy Mayor and the Mayors Chief of Staff. This action resulted in a formal complaint being sent to the Mayor. The woman was fired later that day. Finally, she filed suit against her boss at CARE, the First Deputy Mayor, the Mayor, and the city of Baltimore. Her claim in the suit filed says that she experienced a sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, listing the frequency and retaliation of the claims.
The district court favored the defendants, stating that three or four instances with no evidence of a physical threat did not prove a hostile work environment. On top of this, the district court was provided with documents explaining why she should be fired, which had been written and dated a full week before her termination. That gave the court reason to believe there was a legitimate reason to fire her.
When the case was appealed, the appellate court reversed the ruling. The court accepted at least 12 different instances that sexual harassment had occurred in the work place, creating a hostile environment. According to law, the plaintiff must provide “tangible aspects” of how her life and job were affected, which the appellate court believed was legally met. The final step that the appellate court took was to completely dismiss the dated timestamp provided on the letter of termination. The court found that it was created artificially to negate the claims of retaliation.
If sexual harassment training had been mandatory in working for CARE, then this entire situation may never had occurred. Also, if the Mayors office would have taken the proper steps in dealing with the situation, then the city itself would have been able to escape the lawsuit and keep its name clean for the next election.