Second Circuit: Injunctive Relief Should Have Been Granted In Harassment Case

In E.E.O.C. v. KarenKim, Inc., 116 Fair Empl Prac Cas (BNA) 385 (2d Cir. Oct. 19, 2012), No. 11-3309, the Second Circuit addressed when injunctive relief is proper to prevent further harassment.  Title VII itself provides for injunctive relief where a “court finds that the respondent has intentionally engaged in or is intentionally engaging in an unlawful employment practice charged in the complaint”.  42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g)(1).

Applying the well-known law in this area, the Court held that the district court abused its discretion when it denied the plaintiff’s (here, the EEOC) request for injunctive relief – following a jury verdict in its favor – specifically directed toward ensuring that the chief harasser (Allen Manwaring) is no longer in a position to sexually harass KarenKim employees:

Although we recognize that, in the ordinary case, terminating a lone sexual harasser may very well be sufficient to eliminate the “cognizable danger” that a defendant-employer will engage in “recurrent violation[s]” of Title VII, … this is not an ordinary case. Notably, in this case, the lone harasser, Manwaring, was not just one supervisory employee among many, but was the Store Manager, with authority over all the defendant-employer’s employees. Moreover, he was and remains in a longstanding romantic relationship with Connors, the owner and highest officer of the defendant-employer. Moreover, the record makes evident that this romantic relationship between Connors and Manwaring was the primary reason why Manwaring’s harassment went unchecked for years, subjecting an entire class of young female KarenKim employees to a sexually hostile working environment. Absent an injunction, nothing prevents Connors from once again hiring Manwaring as an employee. In addition, even if Manwaring is not re-employed at KarenKim, Manwaring’s status as Connors’s fiancé, as well as his relationships with other current KarenKim employees, renders it likely that he will remain a presence at the store. … Finally, Connors’s past refusal to adequately respond to multiple credible complaints about Manwaring’s conduct suggests that, so long as Manwaring remains in a romantic relationship with KarenKim’s owner and highest officer, KarenKim will not take adequate remedial measures in response to any future harassment on the part of Manwaring. …

While it is not our role to fashion the specific measures necessary to prevent the recurrence of Manwaring’s misconduct and the resulting hostile work environment at KarenKim, we conclude that, at minimum, the district court exceeded the scope of its discretion in declining to order (a) that KarenKim is prohibited from directly employing Manwaring in the future, and (b) that KarenKim is prohibited from permitting Manwaring to enter its premises.

However, the Court held that “the district court was well within its discretion in concluding that some of the EEOC’s requested relief—such as requiring KarenKim to distribute wallet-sized photographs of Manwaring to its employees, or to hire and pay for an independent monitor to continually review KarenKim’s employment practices and investigate possible instances of sexual harassment—are overbroad and disproportionate to the scale of KarenKim’s unlawful behavior.”

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