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Who is a Manager ?

Posted: June 17, 2009 Filed under: Case Law, Employment Law

Last week, in Huston v. The Procter & Gamble Paper Products Corp., the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals took “the opportunity to offer some guidance to the district courts as to who qualifies as a “management level” employee” for purposes of determining an employer’s liability for sexual harassment by non-supervisory co-workers.

The court prefaced its holding by restating three general rules: (1) the basis of an employer’s liability for hostile environment sexual harassment depends on whether the harasser is the victim’s supervisor or merely a coworker; (2) an employer may be directly liable for non-supervisory co-worker sexual harassment only if the employer was negligent in failing to discover the co-worker harassment or in responding to a report of such harassment; and (3) an employer knew or should have known about workplace sexual harassment if management-level employees had actual or constructive knowledge about the existence of a sexually hostile environment.

Relying on the concept of agency, the Third Circuit summarized:

Thus, to justify imputing an employee’s knowledge of facts to an employer, the facts must be important or significant to the employee’s duties to the employer. This is the case when the employee uses that knowledge in the performance of the employee’s duties to the employer. In other words, the employee’s knowledge of facts may be imputed to the employer only if that knowledge is important to the function the employee is employed to perform.”

Under this approach, an employee’s knowledge of sexual harassment may be imputed to the employer when the employee is employed to report or respond to sexual harassment. We thus conclude that an employee’s knowledge of allegations of coworker sexual harassment may typically be imputed to the employer in two circumstances: first, where the employee is sufficiently senior in the employer’s governing hierarchy, or otherwise in a position of administrative responsibility over employees under him, such as a departmental or plant manager, so that such knowledge is important to the employee’s general managerial duties.

In short, knowledge of harassment by someone with the title “supervisor” is not enough to put the employer on notice of the harassment unless the supervisor has a mandate “generally to regulate the workplace environment.”

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