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Thursday, January 18, 2018

WLAD: Imputing Harassment to Employers

by Gregory Williams, Esq. | Pursuant to a claim of hostile work environment under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), how may a plaintiff establish the fourth element -- that the harassment can be imputed to the employer? Here’s my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).

WASHINGTON LAW AGAINST DISCRIMINATION

Under WLAD, it is an unfair practice, with very few exceptions, for an employer to refuse to hire any person, to discharge or bar any person from employment, or to discriminate against any person in compensation or in other terms and conditions of employment because age (40+); sex (including pregnancy); marital status; sexual orientation (including gender identity); race; color; creed; national origin; honorably discharged veteran or military status; HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C status; the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability; and state employee or health care whistleblower status. It is also an unfair practice for an employer to retaliate (i.e., discharge, expel, or otherwise discriminate) against a person because the person complained about any practices forbidden by the WLAD, or because the person has filed a charge, testified, or assisted in any proceeding under WLAD.

HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT

Generally, to establish a prima facie claim of hostile work environment against an employer, the employee must produce competent evidence of each of the following four elements:  (1) that the harassment was offensive and unwelcome(2) that it occurred because of the employee’s membership in a protected class(3) that it affected the terms and conditions of employment/membership; and (4) that the harassment can be imputed to the employerSee, e.g., Glasgow v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 103 Wn.2d 401, 406-07, 693 P.2d 708 (1985)This article will address the fourth (4th) element: that harassment can be imputed to the employer.

HARASSMENT IMPUTED TO THE EMPLOYER

The fourth element was addressed in Glasgow v. Georgia-Pacific Corp. as follows:
Where an owner, manager, partner or corporate officer personally participates in the harassment, this element is met by such proof. To hold an employer responsible for the discriminatory work environment created by a plaintiff's supervisor(s) or co-worker(s), the employee must show that the employer (a) authorized, knew, or should have known of the harassment and (b) failed to take reasonably prompt and adequate corrective action. This my be shown by proving (a) that complaints were made to the employer through higher managerial or supervisory personnel or by proving such a pervasiveness of ... harassment [based on a protected class] at the work place as to create an inference of the employer's knowledge or constructive knowledge of it and (b) that the employer's remedial action was not of such nature as to have been reasonable calculated to end the harassment. . . . 
[A]n employer may ordinarily avoid liability by taking prompt and adequate corrective action when it learns that an employee is being . . . harassed [based on a protected class].
Id. at 407-08 (emphasis added) (alteration in original).


LEARN MORE

If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Employment Discrimination Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group, PS; please see our DISCLAIMER.

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