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Federal Court Dismisses Harassment Complaint: Affirmative Defense Based on Employer Policies Prevails

January 15, 2004

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California (sitting in Sacramento) recently granted summary judgment in favor of a KM&M client, one of the nation's leading providers of wireless communications. The plaintiff alleged that her supervisor threatened and sexually harassed her and that a co-worker harassed her, as well. After deposing the plaintiff, we filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that the company was not responsible for the supervisor's acts (including his threats), and that alleged acts of harassment by the co-worker were insufficiently severe or pervasive as a matter of law to constitute actionable sexual harassment. Importantly, KM&M was able to establish an affirmative defense for the company based on its policies prohibiting discrimination and its prompt and effective response to the plaintiff's complaints. The Court accepted these arguments and dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit. The decision illustrates the tangible value of having in place comprehensive and up-to-date employment policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment and having managers and human resource professionals trained to recognize and promptly address situations as they arise.