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Hospital Held Accountable for Past Knowledge of Sexual Harassment

Mindy MacCluskey began her work as a dental assistant at the University of Connecticut Health Center in 2008. She worked alongside a dentist named Michael Young. They were co-workers. She described him as “weird” and “creepy” because he invaded her personal space and complimented her “young and beautiful” appearance. He asked Ms. MacCluskey personal questions her relationship with her children’s father and asked about any cheating in her relationship. Ms. MacCluskey reported his conduct to a co-worker and her union representative. Their mutual supervisor allegedly spoke to him but no other action was taken. Mr. Young thereafter escalated the harassment by putting his hand up her shirt. Ms. MacCluskey reported this incident and an investigation was initiated.

Ms. MacCluskey sued the Health Center for gender discrimination and sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. In reviewing the case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals highlighted the fact that Mr. Young had previously been disciplined for sexual harassment. This harassment had occurred eight years before Ms. MacCluskey’s hire; and Mr. Young was given a “last chance” agreement i.e., he would be terminated upon “any future instances of unsolicited flirtation letters or comments to any employee, or any behavior similar to this.”

Because Ms. MacCluskey was able to show that the Health Center essentially ignored this last chance agreement, the circuit court found that it “knew” or “reasonably should have known about the harassment and failed to take appropriate corrective action.” The Health Center was thus liable for his conduct. There was no evidence that Mr. Young had been subjected to any extra attention, monitoring, or training because of his prior harassment. The long length of time between the two allegations against Mr. Young did not alter the Health Center’s reasonable knowledge of his conduct, according to the Second Circuit.