Baldwin v. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama, 480 F.3d 1287 (11th Cir. 03/19/2007)
I. Facts: Baldwin worked as a marketing representative for Blue Cross. Baldwin alleges that her new manager, Head, had frequently asked her to spend the night with him in a hotel room, invited her to his office and requested that she perform sexual act. Baldwin alleges that she has seen him move the zipper on his pants fly up and down. Baldwin also complains that Head uses profanity and makes sexually-charged jokes. She did not complain of her manager’s conduct until after three months. Investigation followed with the company deciding that Baldwin failed to substantiate her claim. She was offered to join Head in counseling or transfer to Birmingham. When she refused for the fourth time, the company demanded her resignation. She was subsequently terminated.
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Issue: 1) whether a hostile work environment was created in the workplace
2) whether the employer may be held liable for the conduct of its manager?
Holding: 1) No because harassment was not severe and pervasive enough.
2) No because Baldwin failed to take advantage of the company’s anti-discrimination policy.
Rationale: 1) Baldwin must show that she was harassed because of her sex, that the harassment was severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of employment. She was not able to substantiate her claim in view of the following: a) the widespread use of profanity was regularly uttered even by Baldwin; b the profanities were not aimed at Baldwin and were gender-neutral; c) the sexual conduct Baldwin experienced was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment.
2) The employer was not liable because it was able to exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly the behavior of its manager as can be seen in the following: a) it had a valid anti-discrimination policy that prohibited harassment and communicated to all employees; b) when a complaint was filed against Head the company immediately conducted an investigation which meets the requirement for conducting a sexual harassment investigation. Secondly the employee failed to take advantage of the preventive and corrective opportunities provided by the employer when she refused to agree to counseling or to transfer to another office. Thirdly, Baldwin failed to take advantage of the preventative measures in its policy by failing to report the harassment sooner.
II. If I were one of the judges in this case, I would rule in favor of Baldwin on the issue of sexual harassment. The act of Head in making sexual advances and soliciting sexual favor from Baldwin, which were not denied, are clear acts of sexual harassment. The Court of Appeals, however simply brushed this aside. Baldwin’s failure to take prompt action by failing to report the sexual harassment of Head should not have been taken against her as it is not unusual for a victim of sexual harassment to delay the filing of complaint for fear of its repercussions on her career and employment opportunities. Further, three months delay in reporting a sexual harassment complaint is not long enough to prejudice her.
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