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In Hudson v. Lincare, Inc., the Fifth Circuit provided employers with a roadmap for the proper response to claims of co-worker harassment. As discussed below, the case exemplifies how prompt and deliberate action can avoid a possibly catastrophic situation.
In Hudson, a sales representative for a medical equipment and services company alleged she was subjected to racial slurs and racially biased comments by a few of her co-workers. The incidents she reported were nothing short of horrific.
During a sales meeting, the employee’s manager overheard the crude comments. The same day, both the manager and the employee reported the incident to Human Resources. An HR representative contacted the employee within a day for a written statement. HR also launched an investigation and interviewed or took statements from each employee who attended the sales meeting. Within five days of management hearing of the comments, the HR department had fully investigated the matter and issued final warnings to the employees involved that any subsequent use of racial slurs would result in termination.
The Court determined that the employer’s actions were “reasonably calculated to end the harassment.” Thus, despite the severity of her co-workers’ conduct, the employer was ultimately not liable on a Title VII hostile work environment claim because the employer (1) promptly investigated the employee’s complaint; and (2) took appropriate remedial action. It is also worth mentioning that, even if the employee had not separately reported the coworker, the supervisor’s quick thinking to also report the co-worker ensured that the employer was able to promptly investigate and respond to the misconduct.
This case reinforces several important lessons: