In 2014, police officer Ann Cardenas filed a lawsuit against the city, Angel Colon, and her then boss Sergeant David John, for sexual harassment that occurred over the course of a year when they worked at the 83rd Precinct in Brooklyn, New York. Cardenas alleged in her suit that Sgt. John engaged in a pattern of seriously offensive behavior, some in front of other officers, including:
Sergeant John retired, but Cardenas claims that Officer Angel Colon continued harassing her after John left. Her claims of sexual harassment against Colon include allegations of grabbing her buttocks and threating to rape her.
John filed a discrimination and countersuit alleging he and Cardenas had a consensual sexual relationship and that she used her sexuality to manipulate him at work. John’s lawsuit also contained allegations of gender stereotyping/sex discrimination against the police department for rushing to judgment against him, performing an incomplete investigation into the facts of their relationship and the testimony of witnesses. He later withdrew the lawsuit.
The case settled in March 2017, with an award of $535,000 for Cardenas. The city has agreed to pay her $500,000. Sgt. John will personally pay $20,000, and Officer Colon will contribute $15,000 to the settlement. Cardenas is working at a new precinct where her attorney told the New York Daily News, “She’s gone from total chaos where no one controlled people harassing women, to an environment of complete professionalism.”
Cardenas’s claim is certainly not the first one involving police officers and sexual harassment, nor will it be the last. But, it does illuminate some of the issues that arise in the workplace when the parties have a consensual relationship, or the victim plays some role in the harassment or the creation of a hostile environment.
There are two kinds of sexual harassment that can occur. The first is called “quid pro quo” which means something for something. It occurs when a supervisor conditions an aspect of employment on the performance of a sexual act. For example, if your manager threatens to transfer you to another state unless you have sex with her, it would be quid pro quo sexual harassment. Or, if your boss promises you a raise for sex, it would fall into this category.
Sexual harassment also occurs when there is a hostile environment in the workplace. It is when one or more colleagues engage in unwanted behavior of a sexual nature. It can include:
A sexually hostile environment exists when the conduct is unwelcome and, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
The EEOC stands firm that many evaluations of sexual harassment hinge on whether the conduct is unwelcome. EEOC guidance states “Because sexual attraction may often play a role in the day-to-day social exchange between employees, “the distinction between invited, uninvited-but-welcome, offensive-but-tolerated, and flatly rejected” sexual advances may well be difficult to discern.”
Courts in some districts have allowed evidence of prior consensual sexual conduct to be used to analyze whether an act is unwelcome. Some Courts have also allowed the use of evidence of a victim’s own sexually aggressive behavior and language, as it relates to the issue of whether conduct is unwanted. The Supreme Court has made it clear that in a Title VII sexual harassment case, “testimony about the plaintiff’s provocative dress and publicly expressed sexual fantasies is not per se inadmissible, but the trial court should carefully weigh its relevance against the potential for unfair prejudice.”
If you are experiencing sexual harassment at your place of employment, it is a good idea to report it immediately. Making it clear to your supervisors and/or the Human Resources (HR) department that the conduct and behavior are unwanted and causing you to be uncomfortable is an important step in protecting your rights.
Employment attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. handle a full range of workplace discrimination claims for clients throughout New York including Long Island and New York City. Call our office at 1-800-585-4658 today for a free case evaluation. Learn more about your rights to work in a place free from discrimination and what you can do if you experience sexual harassment.
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