In the case of Bracey v. Northeast Utilities Service Company, a employee brought action against his former employer, Northeast Utilities Service Company. The employee claimed the company violated Connecticut law: (1) in requiring him to submit to a urinalysis drug test without cause; (2) by subjecting him to sexual harassment and gender discrimination; and (3) in their retaliation against him for complaints he made regarding the alleged harassment. The company moved for summary judgment, a preemptive ruling by the court in favor of one party in the absence of any issue of material fact.
The Claim for Sexual Harassment
It is fundamental to a claim of sexual harassment that the conduct at issue must be sexual in nature. Under Connecticut law, sexual harassment is defined as involving unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature. The challenged conduct typically involves explicit or implicit proposals of sexual activity, but it may also include the use of sex-specific and derogatory terms. Sexual harassment can take many forms, including but not limited to verbal abuse of a sexual nature, unwelcome touching, the use of sexually degrading language to describe an individual, the display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures, or other demeaning activity related to sex.
Applying the Law: Employee Fails to Connect the Dots
The former employer’s motion for summary judgment was granted as to the former employee’s claim for sexual harassment because the two workplace incidents relied upon did not involve sexual conduct, involved the break-up of a consensual sexual relationship with a co-worker, and the co-worker was not his supervisor at the time the two incidents occurred.A major factor in the court’s dismissal of the employee’s sexual harassment claim centers on the employee’s flawed argument that he was subjected to discipline because he broke off his relationship with a co-worker. It is insufficient to state a claim of gender discrimination.
Courts have consistently distinguished between employment actions based on consensual sexual relationships and employment actions taken on the basis of gender. A distinction exists between (1) an isolated employment decision based on personal relations; and (2) a decision based on gender itself. In the former case, the decision is driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person. Such a decision is not gender-based, nor is it based on factors that might be a proxy for gender.
“The [employee] in this case has not produced any evidence of conduct of a sexual nature that affected the conditions of his workplace” said the court. “He has offered no evidence that [his employer] or anyone else made any unwelcome sexual advances toward him, made any comments of a sexual nature, or engaged in any other sort of unwelcome sexual conduct toward him. In opposing summary judgment, the plaintiff relied on a ‘quid pro quo’ theory that can best be described as indirect.”
This case was not handled by our firm. However, if you have any questions regarding this case, or any employment or labor matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.
If you feel you have been mistreated by your employer or in your place of employment and would like to explore your employment law options, contact the experienced employment law attorneys today at 203-221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com. We have the experience and knowledge you need at this critical juncture.
Source: Bracey v. Northeast Utils. Serv. Co., 2013 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2521, 2013 WL 6334262 (Conn. Super. Ct. Nov. 1, 2013)
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