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When Going Along to Get Along Goes Horribly Wrong: One New Jersey Worker’s Successful Hostile Work Environment Litigation

Anyone that’s every worked in an office environment knows that there are certain awkward interpersonal interactions that one must navigate in order to succeed in the workplace. There are things that you’d rather avoid, but sometimes you don’t, just so you can be sure you’re seen as a good “team player.” For one Atlantic County school system employee, though, her effort to be a “team player” eventually turned for the worse and allegedly made her workplace a hostile environment.

That alleged hostile work environment eventually landed the employee, according to a report, a $185,000 settlement. If you think you were the victim of a hostile environment at work, you should contact an experienced New Jersey hostile work environment attorney about your case.

According to the employee’s complaint, problems started after a new business administrator, P.Y., came on board at the school district and expressed to P.B., who was a secretary for the district, that he was physically attracted to one of P.B.’s friends. P.Y. alleged asked P.B. to facilitate a meeting with the friend, who was also a secretary working for the district, imploring P.B. to “hook a brother up.” P.B. asked the administrator to stop, but he didn’t.

One day, P.Y. allegedly quizzed P.B. about his chances with “Jane Doe” (as the court papers called her) in terms of a traffic signal. P.B., in what one could reasonably assume was an attempt to be seen as somewhat cooperative and perhaps put the topic behind her, gave the man a straightforward assessment, rating his chances as “perhaps yellow light.”

Subsequently, Jane became P.Y.’s secretary. The administrator also allegedly used his connections to get her a $10,000 raise. Shortly after that, the administrator and Jane allegedly became lovers, frequently having sex in the administrator’s office. Both partners allegedly would brag about their office encounters to P.B., with each partner giving P.B. crass and lurid specifics about the administrator’s sexual performance. The administrator would also allegedly grope Jane’s breasts and buttocks in front of P.B.

So, what started out as something as simple as giving an honest (and not completely negative) assessment of an administrator’s romantic chances with a co-worker turned into P.B. allegedly becoming subject to a hostile work environment complete with a co-worker and an administrator who would provide unwanted “post-game” analysis of their trysts to P.B. and the supervisor fondling his secretary in front of P.B.

Success doesn’t necessarily require that you always say, ‘I won’t talk about this’

What’s important to remember in a circumstance like this is that, simply because you didn’t flatly rebuff every inappropriate question, that doesn’t mean that you cannot win your hostile work environment case. P.B. could have told the administrator, in response to his red light-yellow light-green light question about Jane, that “your question is inappropriate for the workplace and I don’t want to talk about this.” The reality is, though, that many New Jersey workers may feel uncomfortable responding in such a blunt manner and may feel like a better “team player” by, as P.B. allegedly did, merely giving an answer like P.B.’s “yellow light” response.

Later on, after the administrator allegedly confided in P.B. about Jane’s excessive possessiveness and told P.B., “She’s crazy. I [messed] up, I’m going to have to leave, aren’t I?” P.B. again could have said “this subject matter is inappropriate for the workplace and I don’t want to discuss this.” However, perhaps sensing a colleague in need, P.B. didn’t say that, but instead allegedly told the man that, yes, he was going to have to leave.

Had P.B. responded to the administrator each time by expressing her discomfort and her desire to cease hearing about the sexual goings-on between the administrator and his secretary, the administrator’s failure to stop could have been extra evidence of the hostile nature of the work environment. A worker’s failure to do that, though, doesn’t doom a hostile work environment case, and it didn’t doom P.B.’s, either. P.B. already had ample evidence to present a strong case, which is why she was able to reach a settlement where she received $185,000.

If you’ve been harmed as a result of a hostile work environment, always make sure you take the time to reach out to counsel. You may know your case is strong, or you may mistakenly believe your options are all weak ones. An attorney can give you the professional assessment you need. For reliable advice and powerful advocacy, talk to the experienced New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how our skillful attorneys can help get results for you.

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