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Ex-employees awarded $20.2 million in sexual harassment suit

Sexual harassment in the workplace has been illegal under Minnesota and federal laws for many years, and most employers have policies in place to prevent it and to punish those who don't abide by the policy. Nonetheless, many employers continue to turn a blind eye to reports of sexual harassment.

A jury recently awarded $20.2 million to seven women and one man who claimed their former employer created a hostile work environment where severe sexual harassment was commonplace. Management officials of the former employer, a travel agency, did not even show up in the courtroom.

According to one of the women who filed the lawsuit, male managers at the company routinely groped, threatened and insulted female employees. One woman said that a manager carried around a picture of his "manhood" on his cell phone and would shove it in the face of female employees. At one point, she said, he acted out a mock sexual assault of the back of her chair while she was sitting in it. The male worker who joined the suit claimed that he was fired after he tried to stop the abuse.

One woman who was part of the suit said the severity of the harassment caused her to suffer emotional and physical health problems. She said she still cries over the treatment that she and other women received at the company.

Under Minnesota and federal laws, sexual harassment is defined as a kind of discrimination based upon sex. Sexual harassment cases generally come in two categories: quid pro quo cases or hostile work environment cases. In quid pro quo cases, workers must put up with unwanted sexual attention as a condition of their employment, as when a supervisor demands a subordinate provide sexual favors in exchange for a promotion. Hostile work environment sexual harassment involves repeated offensive behavior. Employers may be liable for sexual harassment when it was committed by a supervisor or when the employer did nothing to stop harassment committed by employees.

No one should have to put up with a workplace where severe sexual harassment goes unpunished. Minnesota employees who feel they have been subjected to sexual harassment should get help understanding their legal options.

Source: ABC Action News, "Victim describes 'horrific' sexual harassment at Largo travel company after being awarded damages," Chris Trenkmann, May 3, 2013

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