Here’s how to sink a winnable court case: Conduct a stellar complaint investigation, discipline those responsible, and then fire the complainer when she complains again.
During her first months as a project manager assistant for a construction contracting job, Jennifer Westendorf claimed one of her colleagues consistently sexually harassed her.
What did that behavior look like? Her colleague:
- announced that a large-breasted woman he called “Double D” would be at a company barbecue. When she showed up, he commented on breast size and asked Westendorf if the woman’s breasts intimidated her.
- asked Westendorf about tampons and if women “got off” when they used a particular kind
- said that women were lucky because they got to have multiple orgasms, and
- told Westendorf that she had to clean his office in a French maid’s uniform.
Westendorf’s manager heard many of these complaints but didn’t do anything — even when Westendorf complained directly to him.
So Westendorf went to the company president. He ordered a swift investigation and reprimanded her manager for failing to stop the co-worker from making the harassing comments. The president added that if the behavior didn’t stop, he would fire the supervisor.
After that, Westendorf claimed that the supervisor began belittling her, cursing at her in front of others and criticizing her for her work.
When Westendorf again complained to the president, the president said that Westendorf clearly had a problem getting along with her manager and that she just pack up her things and leave.
No on harassment, yes on retaliation
Westendorf sued, claiming harassment and retaliation.
The court dismissed her harassment claim, saying the harassment hadn’t occurred frequently enough to be severe or pervasive.
But guess what: The court did find that the company had retaliated against Westendorf.
Even though the court said she hadn’t been harassed, Westendorf’s complaints still constituted protected activity.
And when she was fired after complaining more, she was effectively retaliated against, said the court.
The case is Westendorf v. West Coast Contractors of Nevada, Inc.