New York State

3 horrifying harassment cases the courts did nothing about

Three examples of real cases in which judges ruled certain modes of conduct could not be considered harassment in New York.

How much harassment in the work place is actually permissible in a New York court?

How much harassment in the work place is actually permissible in a New York court? Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

In New York, in order for harassment to be deemed illegal and thus covered by the state Human Rights Law, a court must find the harassment to be “severe or pervasive.”

Advocates say that’s a big problem – and that the state should quickly change that standard to ensure victims of harassment are adequately protected.

Here are three real cases in New York in recent years – taken from written testimony by Miriam Clark, president of National Employment Lawyers Association’s New York chapter – in which judges ruled the conduct described did not meet the standard.

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1. Actions taken by a male defendant against two female colleagues over a period of time:

Told plaintiff she should get breast implants and offered to take her to a doctor who could perform the procedure.

Told plaintiff that her underwear was exposed but told her that she should not have adjusted her pants because he had been “enjoying himself.”

Placed whipped cream on the side of his mouth and asked plaintiff if this “looked familiar.”

Repeatedly told plaintiff that she needed to lose weight.

Once touched plaintiff’s rear end and told her she needed to “tighten it up.”

Attempted to get plaintiff to socialize with his male friends despite her refusal.

Took women, including other female employees, into rooms for extended periods of time.

Often spoke in public about his affinity for women with large breasts.

Frequently walked around the office in only long johns and a T-shirt.

Showed plaintiffs a pen holder, which was a model of a person and in which the pen would be inserted into its “rectum.”

2. Actions taken by a supervisor in regard to a subordinate:

Called plaintiff a “dumb blonde,” “Blondie,” “money bunny” and “Mae West.”

Claimed at a staff meeting that he and she would be sharing a hotel room during an upcoming business trip.

Told a client that he and the employee had showered together.

Made sporadic remarks about her appearance and work attire.

Swatted her on the butt with papers that he was holding.

Jokingly told her that if she didn’t work better he was going to bring his paddle from home.

On three or four subsequent occasions, stood in the doorway of her office and made spanking motions with his hands.

3. Actions taken by a supervisor against one employee:

Pulled on plaintiff’s bra straps.

Pulled her hair twice.

Suggested that plaintiff purchase certain sexual paraphernalia.

Rubbed lubricant on plaintiff’s arm.

Called her a sexually derogatory name.

Described a party that he had attended in sexually graphic terms.

Claimed that he ejaculated into a plate of food that he had brought into the office to share.

Called her a derogatory term for lesbian.

Gave her a refrigerator magnet with a crab on it and said she had crabs.