AG Jepsen: State Supreme Court Decision Affirms
Strong Public Policy against Workplace Sexual Harassment
Can the state terminate employment when an individual engages in sexual harassment in violation of agency directives? According to the Connecticut Supreme Court, if there is a clearly defined policy that has been knowingly and egregiously violated, then public policy may require nothing less than termination.
The court this week affirmed an Appellate Court ruling that vacated an arbitration award of a one-year suspension to a state employee who had been terminated for allegedly engaging in an open pattern of sexual harassment in knowing violation of agency policy. A trial court overturned the arbitrator’s award.
“As a matter of public policy, this is a very important decision that has significant implications for state agencies,” said Attorney General George Jepsen. “The court has affirmed that there is a strong public policy against on-the-job misconduct that is so egregious that in certain circumstances it may require nothing less than an individual’s termination.”
Sexual harassment is illegal under state and federal law. Additionally, public and private-sector employers may adopt specific policies relating to sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment not only for the victimized individual but also for other employees who consistently witness inappropriate behavior,” the Attorney General said. “As an employer, state agencies – through their commissioners and supervisory staff – have a legitimate interest and responsibility to ensure a safe, respectful and orderly work environment. The court’s decision this week ensures that individuals who knowingly engage in inappropriate behavior can be removed from the work environment when all attempts to remedy the situation fail.”
According to the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment; unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance; or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Assistant Attorneys General Thomas Clifford and Philip Schulz, head of the Workers Compensation and Labor Relations Department, with Associate Attorney General Gregory D’Auria, assisted the Attorney General with this matter.
Jaclyn M. Falkowski