People in California who are jealous of someone's success at work might retaliate by spreading rumors about that person sleeping with a superior to secure promotions. A case recently heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit resulted in a decision that exposed an employer to possible liability because the company fired the female plaintiff after she tried to address widespread rumors about her alleged sexual activities in exchange for promotions.
The woman rose to the position of assistant operations manager over the course of two years. A male co-worker who started working at the company at the same time but who did not advance started spreading gossip that her success stemmed from sleeping with a senior manager. A warehouse manager contributed to the gossip by talking about the rumors during a mandatory staff meeting that excluded the woman in question.
When the woman confronted the warehouse manager about the situation, he blamed her for causing problems. He told her that she would not receive any more promotions. After she made a formal complaint to human resources about a hostile work environment, the company terminated her employment. The federal appeals court agreed that this case represented a hostile work environment based on sex discrimination because the employer enabled the rumors and did not punish the person making accusations against her.
A person who is being mistreated at work might want legal advice before approaching the human resources department. An attorney could inform the person about his or her workplace rights and explain what types of behavior represent sexual harassment. Legal representation might convince an employer to take allegations seriously and investigate the situation instead of ignoring it. A lawyer might also pursue a financial settlement for career damage either through private discussions or litigation.