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Prior Warning of Conduct Towards Others Was Notice of Harassment

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission brought a suit for sexual harassment against Trans Ocean Seafoods. Three women were involved in the suit. Ms. Matamoros, Ms. Perea, and Ms. Sanchez claimed that they were sexually harassed by their supervisor and some of their male co-workers. While the women claimed that they had each complained to a manager about the harassment, the manager disputed some of their accounts. The federal jury did not find sufficient notice to the employer that it knew of the women’s harassment. The women filed a motion seeking a new trial. The federal district court granted their motion.

Generally, knowledge of a hostile work environment toward one victim may not be used to evidence knowledge of other possible victims. In this case, it was undisputed that the company had received a complaint about the supervisor’s sexual language and was spoken to about it. It was also documented that Ms. Matamoros had complained that the supervisor was sexually harassing her and other female employees. After this complaint, the manager met with the supervisor and gave him a second warning. While there was an evidentiary dispute as to whether complaints were made by Ms. Perea and Ms. Sanchez, the two documented prior complaints put the company on notice of his harassing behavior. The court deemed this sufficient for the company to have known that harassment was occurring for at least a year prior to the filing of an EEOC charge. In the court’s opinion, the clear weight of the evidence supported granting the women a new trial.