WHAT IS CO-WORKER HARASSMENT?
This VA case will give you a good idea. In a case of co-worker harassment, an agency is responsible for acts of harassment in the workplace where the agency (or its agents) knew or should have known of the conduct, unless it can show that it took immediate and appropriate corrective action. In July 2012 a VA work leader hit the “panic button” and summoned Agency police to her workstation because she was “afraid” of an employee. When that investigation went nowhere, she moved her seat right next to his, and that, according to the employee, is when she started excessively monitoring, nitpicking, singling out, and provoke the employee. The employee harassment complaint shows she was “constantly riding [him], screaming at [him] whenever [he was] late going on break,” even when he was busy helping a patient.
Another employee told the EEOC Judge that whenever the work leader arrived at the office and Complainant was there, she would “find a way to talk about something that would upset [Complainant]” such as telling him to do someone else’s work, or take long breaks so that Complainant would have to miss his breaks. He said the work leader was “in [Complainant’s] business every chance she got, ‘corrected’ everything Complainant did.” Finally, this other employee reported the work leader having said that Complainant “only got his job because he is black” and that she was afraid of Complainant because “he was a big black man.”
EEOC wrote that the work leader’s statement in the police report, that she “became afraid that [Complainant] was going to come over [to her] and start swinging” is not reasonably credible as Complainant and the two witnesses to the event stated that he was seated the entire time and did not threaten her. It also noted that the Complainant further testified that the work leader would “go off’ about President Obama and “really turned up the pressure,” after President Obama was reelected in November 2012 repeatedly saying, “oh now we got to deal with him” in a way that Complainant understood meant it had to do with race.
Finally, EEOC wrote, “Management was clearly aware of the panic button incident, including receiving the responding police officer’s report, and the only reaction appears to have been to allow Cl [the work leader] to take several days off work….Further, the record indicates that Complainant met with staff from Human Resources, as well as the Union, seeking assistance in gaining reassignment away from Cl. However, the record does not indicate that there were any efforts to separate Complainant and Cl or otherwise prevent further harassment. In fact, the record shows that after Cl returned to work following the panic button incident, she chose to sit right next to him, although there were apparently other seats to choose from. Given the Agency’s inaction in addressing Complainant’s concerns with Cl, we find sufficient basis to hold the Agency liable for the co-worker harassment.”
EEOC ordered the agency to pay the employee compensatory damages, which can be up to $300,000.00 for this kind of harassment. See the following for more details on co-worker harassment: EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Vicarious Employer Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors (June 18, 1999). This particular case it Roderick P., Complainant, V. Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary,DVA (VHA) EEOC No. 0120161268 (2018).