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Seventh Circuit Emphasizes that Prompt Investigation is key to Eliminating Employer Liability for Co-Worker Harassment Under Title VII

An African-American employee was involved in a personal feud with several co-workers, leading her to file 10 complaints of racial harassment within a two-year period. The employer promptly investigated each of the complaints, determining in only one case that the alleged harassment had occurred and that discipline was appropriate. Where the evidence was inconclusive, the employer counseled all parties involved to treat one another with respect. The employee was unsatisfied with those responses, however, and sued the employer. He alleged that the employer had allowed its employees to create a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. An employer is liable under Title VII for an employee’s harassment when it fails to take reasonable steps to discover and remedy the harassment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found no basis for employer liability because the employer had investigated each of the employee’s complaints with vigor and had taken appropriate corrective action when necessary. The court concluded: “As we have said before, prompt investigation is the hallmark of reasonable corrective action.” Employers should remember that when they become aware of a potential complaint of harassment, it is imperative to immediately investigate and respond accordingly; by doing so, the employer will avoid liability for employee’s misconduct.

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