Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Tim Garrett provided insight for a Corporate Counsel article on the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Ault v. Oberlin. The case involved whether a single incident could be sufficiently severe to support sexual harassment allegations. The Court said yes, given the severity of the incident. In the case, a female employee was standing in a walk-in cooler and allegedly was pinned against a shelf by the harasser, who placed his pelvic area against her and trapped her against her protests. The court deemed the accusation a sexual, humiliating and physical invasion of her space, warranting a trial, Tim explained.
Referencing a Bass Berry Labor Talk blog post from July 28, 2015, the Corporate Counsel article notes that a single act can be severe enough to satisfy the standard of "severe or pervasive" and be sexual harassment. Tim said the case demonstrates the level of severity necessary to meet that standard.
"The case is also instructive on what did not rise to the level of sufficiently severe or pervasive," Tim said. Two other female employees said the same harasser made three to five sexually inappropriate and suggestive comments. "The court noted that the language was vulgar and unprofessional but not enough to establish sexual harassment," he said.
The full article, "Severe or Pervasive Harassment Can Happen Just Once," was published by CorpCounsel.com on August 5 and is available online (subscription required).