Lord v. High Voltage Software, Inc.: Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

Lord v. High Voltage Software, Inc., a case from the Untied States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit involved an employee who claimed he was terminated after he filed a complaint for sexual harassment by a co-worker, which if true would be illegal retaliation.  He also claimed his employer created a hostile work environment which is also violation of local and federal labor regulations.

typingIn this case, employee worked for a software firm that designed video games. He began working there in 2006 and was assigned to what was known as the “Omni team” since all employees were assigned to a team when hired and them moved around from time to time based upon the employee’s relative skill and the needs of the company.  In his complaint, claimant asserted that the year after he was employed, other male employees began to tease him by discussing the fact that they believed he was attracted to a particular female employee. 

This female employee was an audio technician at the company and his coworkers would ask if he had taken care of the “audio bug” whenever this female technician was around. It was his contention that the term audio bug carried sexual connotations in the context with which they were using it.  After around five months of being teased in this manner, this employee sent an email to the company’s human resources department complaining about this alleged sexual harassment and hostile work environment that his coworkers had created.  Once human resources received his complaint, the director decided to schedule a meeting with him to discuss this matter.

At this meeting, the director told the employee that these audio bug comments did not actually amount to sexual harassment, but told him to report any further instances of sexual harassment as soon as they occurred. It should be noted that an employer’s human resources department may be more concerned about protecting themselves from liability than making sure you are not treated unfairly.  For this reason, you should speak with an Orange County employment attorney to see if you are actually being harassed, sexually or otherwise, and whether you have a valid claim against your employer for creating a hostile work environment.

The company then assigned this employee to a different team.  Their reasoning was that there clearly a problem with team dynamics and it would better for him not to continue to work on this same team. His employer also told him that the company is a creative type work environment and this type of humor is a common method of communication.  In other words, they were basically telling him to lighten up.  On his new team, employee claimed that on four occasions, a coworker had poked him on the buttocks as he was putting coins in a vending machine. Two days’ latter, this coworker slapped employee on the buttocks. About a week later, this coworker grabbed him between his legs while he was writing on a whiteboard. He did not report any of these incidents, but did tell his coworker to stop.

He did report the incidents about a month later and the coworker was fired for this alleged behavior, but the company said it was not sexual harassment.  Employee was also fired for failing to timely report these incidents and being overly concerned with his coworkers’ performance.  He appealed and this appeal was denied because the court found he failed to show the poking was sexual in nature or based upon his gender.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Lord v. High Voltage Software, Inc, October 5, 2016, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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