In January 2014, a federal trial judge in Texas allowed a nurse's sexual harassment lawsuit to proceed to trial, denying the defendant medical employer's summary judgment motion. The plaintiff alleged that a doctor's unwanted sexual comments and related behavior at work constituted illegal sexual harassment under federal and Texas state law because his actions created a work atmosphere that was "intimidating, sexually hostile and offensive."
Summary judgment asks the court to decide if there are any genuine issues of material fact that warrant proceeding to trial so a judge or jury can make factual findings after considering all the evidence presented in the case. The employer asked the court to enter summary judgment, arguing that undisputed material facts entitled the defendant to judgment as a matter of law.
The judge in Sanders v. Christus Santa Rosa PASC found issues of material facts on several issues, including whether the doctor's actions were sufficiently "severe or pervasive" so as to create a hostile environment, and whether the medical employer "exercised reasonable care to prevent any sexually-harassing behavior" and to correct such behavior promptly.
This sexual harassment case will be watched with interest to see if it settles or proceeds to a full trial on the facts and issues.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment in employment is a type of discrimination based on gender that violates both federal and Texas law. Specifically, sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct toward an employee negatively impacts the victim's employment. The negative impact is usually on a term, benefit or condition of employment.
Sexual harassment can be quid pro quo when a job benefit is given or withheld, depending on the victim's reaction to an unwelcome sexual advance, or it can be hostile environment when the work atmosphere becomes abusive or oppressive because of repeatedly unwelcome behavior that is sexual in nature.
Experienced legal counsel important
Sexual harassment lawsuits under Texas or federal law are extremely complicated, both procedurally and legally. Such suits involve both state and federal agencies that enforce fair employment laws as well as state and federal courts. The interaction between these bodies is complex, deadlines may be strictly enforced, the law that applies is detailed and case outcomes are very fact-dependent.
These aspects of sexual harassment claims make it imperative that any Texas employee who is a victim speak with an experienced employment attorney as early as possible. The lawyer can begin an investigation into the circumstances to gather and preserve important evidence for use in a potential sexual harassment lawsuit. Legal counsel can advise the victim how to handle the situation at work and what his or her legal rights and remedies may be.