It should not be news to employers that gossip and rumors in the workplace can be bad for business, having negative impacts on employee morale and productivity. However, employers – at least in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina – may now also face legal liability if they fail to address or stop workplace rumors.
In Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc., the plaintiff, a female employee, alleged that male co-workers had spread false rumors that she had slept with her male boss to obtain a promotion. She also alleged that these rumors caused her co-workers and subordinates to treat her with open resentment. Shortly after she reported her concerns to HR, her employment was terminated. The plaintiff sued her employer under Title VII, claiming that she was being discriminated against based on her gender and that she was being subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation.
The District Court of Maryland dismissed the case, finding that the rumors were not based on the employee’s gender. However, the Fourth Circuit disagreed, holding that the sex-based nature of the rumors supported the employee’s allegations.
Employers now have more reason than ever to take steps to prevent and address workplace rumors. With this in mind, companies should make sure that they have appropriate anti-harassment policies in place and that management and HR are prepared to address these situations if and when they arise. If you would like to review your existing policies or are interested in workplace harassment training, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The contents of this Alert are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact the Shulman Rogers attorney with whom you regularly work or a member of the Shulman Rogers Employment and Labor Law Group.
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