Online Exclusive: Sex Harassment Decision Describes an "Animal House" Atmosphere
JetBlue Airways hired 54-year-old Diane Gorzynski as a customer service agent in January 2000. About two years later, the company hired James Celeste as her supervisor at the Buffalo International Airport. Celeste allegedly subjected Gorzynski to repeated and multiple forms of sexual harassment and age discrimination until she was fired in July 2002.
JetBlue unsuccessfully tried to defend itself by arguing that because Gorzynski only complained to Celeste, rather than pursuing other options for complaints outlined in the employee handbook, she didn't make a reasonable effort to alert the company to the harassment. That argument was based on the 1998 rulings in Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, in which the Supreme Court created a two-part defense against sexual harassment claims.
To protect themselves against harassment liability, companies need to offer ways to complain outside of the immediate power ladder, says Philip Schatz, a partner at Wrobel and Schatz.