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Former D.C. lifeguard awarded $3.5 M in sexual harassment suit

Sexual harassment simply has no place in today's workplace. It is illegal under federal employment law, yet still it continues to happen. Last month, a jury in Washington, D.C., made a very unusual request in an attempt to stop employers from harboring sexual harassment.

The case involved a former D.C. lifeguard who was employed by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation at a public pool. As her case drew to a close, the jury not only awarded her $3.5 million for the damages she incurred by sexual harassment under her supervisor and the subsequent retaliation after she complained, but also urged the parks department to institute sexual harassment prevention training and handle complaints better when they do arise. Furthermore, it asked the park department to investigate the harassment.

The judge in this case said he had never seen a jury make this kind of request.

According to the lawsuit, the woman began working as a lifeguard at the pool in the spring of 2006. While working there, she said her supervisor harassed her by repeatedly making advances. When she turned down the advances, the harassment intensified with the supervisor making references to his genitalia, among other inappropriate comments and physical contacts.

The lifeguard reported the behavior to six supervisors, but nothing was done to stop the harassment. In the fall, she filed a written complaint and shortly thereafter she was fired, and she believed this was in retaliation for making the complaint.

A jury agreed with the woman, and issued an award for her pain and suffering.

Park supervisors still have not admitted wrongdoing, and the jury's special request of the department is likely in hopes that they will finally accept what has happened and learn from it.

It is important that the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation makes changes to ensure that it can foster a workplace that is safe and free from sexual harassment.

Source: The Washington Post, "Federal jury awards $3.5 million to former D.C. lifeguard who was fired after complaining of sexual harassment," Del Quentin Wilber, Aug. 10, 2012

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