BURLINGTON INDUSTRIES AT EASE WITH HIGH COURT’S DECISION
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — Burlington Industries said Friday it was satisfied with the Supreme Court decision on a sexual harassment case in which it is the defendant, in that the ruling “clears up confusion” about such cases.
Being hailed as a landmark opinion, the ruling will allow Kimberly Ellerth, a former merchandising assistant in Burlington’s mattress-fabric division, to continue her lawsuit. Ellerth said she quit her job in May 1994 because a supervisor made repeated offensive sexual remarks and gestures toward her. Burlington has an anti-sexual harassment policy and procedures for reporting such behavior, but Ellerth never notified the firm. The opinion found companies can have “vicarious liability” for an employee’s harassing behavior.
However, it also said that Burlington should have the chance to show it might not be liable for the supervisor’s alleged behavior by raising what is known in federal courts as the “affirmative defense.” This has two elements: proof that an employer took care to prevent and quickly address harassing behavior and an employee “unreasonably” failed to take advantage of anti-harassment company policies to correct the situation.
Responding to the ruling, Burlington said: “We are satisfied with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision which clarifies the law on sexual harassment by a supervisor and recognizes that an employer’s exercise of reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexual harassment is an affirmative defense to such claims. Burlington’s policy always has been very clear. We do not and will not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employees are well aware of company policy, through written policies and oral communications.”