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Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly publishes “Ruling significantly expands employer liability for bias” by David C. Henderson

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06.23.2014 | Article

David C. Henderson, a member of the firm’s Labor, Employment and Benefits practice group, published “Ruling significantly expands employer liability for bias” in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly on June 23. The article discusses Velazquez-Perez v. Developers Diversified Realty Corp., No. 12-2226 (May 23, 2014). In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that a shopping center management company can be liable for the discharge of its regional general manager based on unlawfully discriminatory reports from a non-supervisory human resources representative. Notably, this human resources representative was alleged to have been an employee whose sexual advances the general manager had resisted. According to this ruling, the employer could be liable under Title VII for negligently allowing the discriminatory acts to cause the discharge, even though it did not intend to violate the law. It also expands employers’ potential liability under Title VII by allowing a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim for wrongful discharge based on the conjunction of employer negligence and unlawfully discriminatory behavior by a non-supervisor.

As David points out, the lessons from the opinion are significant. He notes that unlawful discrimination can show up and do harm in unexpected ways and that preventative training for employees and supervisors alike about the pernicious effects of unlawful discrimination should be seen as an essential part of employer risk management. The case also provides another cautionary note for employers about problems that can occur when romantic relationships between coworkers end and one of the employees allows dissatisfaction with that result to become a factor in his or her actions at work.

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