Duty to Investigate Sexual Harassment Complaints

duty to investigate sexual harassment complaints

Employers in California have a duty to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940 (k). As part of this statutory duty, employers must take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop sexual harassment.

A prompt investigation of a sexual harassment claim is a necessary step for an employer to meet its obligation to ensure a discrimination-free work environment. But merely conducting an investigation is not enough. The investigation must be conducted in good faith in order to truly be a step taken by the employer to end the harassment.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has found that an employer’s investigation did not constitute adequate remedial action where the employer conducted an investigation into the plaintiff’s complaint, but the investigator failed to interview witnesses favorable to the plaintiff and when he found evidence in favor of the plaintiff, he did not give the evidence sufficient weight. The Court stated, “An employer whose sole action is to conclude that no harassment occurred cannot in any meaningful sense be said to have “remedied” what happened. Denial does not constitute a remedy.” Fuller v. City of Oakland (9th Cir. 1995) 47 F.3d 1522.

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