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Investigation Alone Was Not Sufficient To Avoid Harassment Liability

An employer who investigated but did not ultimately stop the harassment was found liable in a federal trial court.

Lisa Fisher worked as a home health aide at the Mermaid Manor Home for Adults. Ms. Fisher was a black woman and her co-workers were also two black women. One co-worker was from Jamaica and the other was from Haiti. There was some workplace tension between employees from the U.S. and those individuals from the Caribbean. The two Caribbean women posted an Instagram photo that compared Ms. Fisher to a chimpanzee from the “Planet of the Apes” movie. Ms. Fisher complained in accordance with Mermaid’s anti-harassment policy and complaint process. Mermaid investigated; they spoke with and reprimanded the women as well as conducted an in-service training about its harassment policy. However, the hostile work environment continued after these steps. Ms. Fisher was made fun of constantly and the women ripped up her patient book and destroyed her patients’ beds. Mermaid did not take any further action against the women.

A jury hearing the case awarded Ms. Fisher $25,000 in actual damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Mermaid tried to overcome the judgment. The district court refused; it found that Mermaid’s response to Ms. Fisher’s complaint failed to remediate the hostile work environment. “As became clear during trial, the Instagram phone was merely a symptom of the hostile work environment… and treatment of the symptom failed to cure the disease.” As Ms. Fisher continued to be harassed, it showed that Mermaid had not ensured the effectiveness of its remedial action.