Student on Teacher Sexual Harassment: Third-Party Liability

Employers are responsible for counteracting sexual harassment in the workplace through preventative measures and disciplinary policies. In the event that harassment creates a hostile work environment, employers can be held liable. In a recent California case, a Catholic School teacher is bringing a lawsuit against a school alleging that students took turns taking photos up the skirts of their female teachers. The plaintiff was harassed for more than two years in her own classroom without any assistance from supervisors or administrators. The lawsuit alleged that the “boys will be boys” policy failed to protect her and other teachers from harassment in the workplace.

work4Sexual harassment cases can be qualified as either hostile work environment or quid pro quo. In this case, the private school’s failure to take action for repeated harassment and the hostile work environment could be held liable. Our Orange County employment law attorneys are committed to protecting the rights of our clients and to staying abreast of legal news and developments that may impact California workers. This case sheds light on a new possibility for liability involving student on teacher harassment.

According to reports, the abuse started in 2012 when students wrote sexually explicit remarks about the teacher in the bathroom. Last May school administrators learned that the boys were collectively in a competition to take the “best” photo up a teachers’ skirt. There were several teachers targeted by the video and photo assaults. After performing an initial investigation, six students were expelled and six more were suspended. According to the plaintiff, one of the students distracted her while another put his phone up her skirt to take photos. A student who saw the incident reported it and the administrators informed the plaintiff.

After learning about the initial photo, there was a further investigation which reveals that several “up-skirt” photos had been disseminated around the school. The teacher told the TV-station that the school did little to protect her or other female teachers. Since learning about the photos, the teacher went on leave, but has taken legal action to ensure that teachers will be protected in the classroom. The teacher admits having a hard time returning to school to face the students and says that the entire experience has been traumatic. She is demanding back pay, damages, and wants the school to make necessary changes to stop encouraging this “boys will be boys” behavior.

In response, the school claims that it will be implementing programs to teach students about sexual harassment, especially in the age of technology. The school has not made an official statement about whether it will settle the case or if it intends to fight the teacher on back pay. This is a complicated case as it asks the question of whether an employer should be held liable for students who harass the teacher. Third-party sexual harassment occurs when an employee is harassed by a client, customer or other third-party. In this case, the third-party is the students. An employer could be liable for third-party harassment if it knew or should have known and failed to take action. In addition, employees should not be penalized for reporting or reacting to harassment.

Employment lawsuits can be filed with assistance from the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange County. Call 949.375.4734.

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