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Sexual Harassment: Defining Severe or Pervasive Conduct

On August 14, 2012, the Franklin County Court of Appeals in Susan E. Camp v. Star Leasing Co., (10th Dist. Aug. 14, 2012) 2012-Ohio-3650 issued a decision that reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment on a sexual harassment claim.

Susan E. Camp worked as an Operations Manager for her employer. She alleged that her supervisor treated her in a condescending manner by speaking to her very slowly, exaggerating the pronunciation of words, putting his hand to her face and yelling "stop," using offensive and profane language towards her, refusing to permit her to attend branch meetings, and taking away her duty of making a presentation at safety meetings.

Camp complained to a number of higher level managers that her supervisor did not treat male managers in a similar manner. However, the managers did not take her complaints seriously and her morale suffered.

Camp's physician recommended that Camp take family medical leave because of extreme anxiety and stress. Although the employer approved her request, Camp was informed that if she did not return to work by a set deadline, she would be terminated from her employment. Ultimately, Camp did not return to work and she was terminated.

Camp filed a complaint and alleged that she was subjected to sexual harassment, sex discrimination, disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of R.C. Chapter 4112. The trial court granted the employer's motion for summary judgment on all her claims. Camp appealed to the Franklin County Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment on Camp's sexual harassment claim, but affirmed judgment on the other claims.

In doing so, the Court of Appeals rejected the employer's argument that the harassing supervisor treated both males and females alike in the same humiliating and demeaning way. The court found that there were genuine issues of material fact whether Camp's supervisor harassed her but for her gender, and concluded that the trial court erred by finding that Camp had not presented evidence that would prove that the harassment was based on her gender.

The court further found that the lower court erred when it concluded that Camp had not presented sufficient evidence that the alleged conduct was severe or pervasive. The court found that the evidence demonstrated her supervisor's conduct occurred on almost a daily basis. Furthermore, the court found there was evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact whether Camp never complained, or that the employer had responded to her complaints.

Although there was no evidence that the supervisor had engaged in offensive physical touching, the court reasoned that Camp presented sufficient evidence that her supervisor's conduct was humiliating and demeaning as a form of sexual harassment.

By: Merl H. Wayman

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