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Employer Reaction to Off-Site Rape Could Create Hostile Work Environment

Cynthia Fuller was raped by one of her co-workers outside the workplace. She and the co-worker were both employed by the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC). This co-worker, Herbt Cruz, had already been placed on a paid administrative leave because he was under criminal investigation for a prior rape. IDOC had received prior complaints about Mr. Cruz from three other female co-workers. While on leave, Mr. Cruz received a fair amount of support from the IDOC “to make sure he’s doing okay in terms of still being our employee.”

One day after Ms. Fuller reported the rape to the IDOC, a company wide email went out suggesting contact with Mr. Cruz to “give him some encouragement” because “he was rather down.” Ms. Fuller had provided photos of her injuries and a protection order. The IDOC did investigate and ultimately terminated Mr. Cruz. Ms. Fuller requested leave but was denied because only employees being investigated were entitled to leave. She was told to use her accrued vacation and sick time. Ms. Fuller requested paid leave, noting that Mr. Cruz was on paid leave and that she had not received any support in making her sexual harassment claim. Her request for paid leave was denied again.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that, “In light of the severity of the sexual assaults on Fuller, documented by the photographs seen by the IDOC supervisors,” a jury could conclude that the IDOC’s public and internal support of Mr. Cruz made it harder for Ms. Fuller to be in her job. Ms. Fuller could reasonably perceive that the IDOC valued Mr. Cruz’ reputation and job over her well-being. The case will proceed to a jury.