Sexual Harassment Leading to Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in the Workplace
When an employee experiences severe emotional distress as a result of sexual harassment, the employee may have a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Sexual harassment is a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment can take two forms: hostile environment or quid pro quo. Fuller v. City of Oakland, stated a plaintiff claiming sexual harassment resulting in a hostile environment must prove:
· He/she was subjected to verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature;
· The conduct was unwelcome; and
· The conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive altering the conditions of employment.
In Miller v. Bank of America, quid pro quo harassment is classified as when the plaintiff faces an adverse employment action upon refusal to cooperate with sexual favors.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recognizes sexual harassment under Title VII, but requires the harassment to be serious. Therefore, teasing and isolated incidents are not normally illegal. Further, the EEOC states that sexual harassment must be so “frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or creates an adverse employment decision.”
When an employee has suffered from sexual harassment so great that it results in emotional distress he/she may have a claim for IIED. However, even as a result of sexual harassment, IIED is a high bar to meet.
To succeed on a claim for IIED, as stated by Ford v. Revlon, conduct must be:
· “Extreme” and “outrageous;”
· Must either intend to cause emotional distress or recklessly disregard the near certainty that such distress will result from their conduct; and
· Severe emotional distress must indeed occur as a result of the employer’s conduct
It is rare to find conduct in the workplace that will constitute the outrageous element of IIED. Therefore, an employer is rarely liable for IIED.
Generally, in Arizona, an employer is not liable for IIED resulting from sexual harassment that occurs between employees. However, an employer may be found liable when they are aware of the sexual harassment and fail to investigate or take appropriate action. An employer may also be found liable where their acts were a severe abuse of power. While failing to investigate and abuse of power would both satisfy the outrageousness element of IIED, the employee must also demonstrate the employer intended the emotional distress and that emotional distress occurred as a result of the conduct.
While sexual harassment may result in extreme emotional distress, it is extremely difficult to succeed on a claim for IIED absent any sexual abuse on part of the defendant.
Contact Tyler Allen Law Firm by filling out the contact form on this page or by calling (602) 456-0545 to discuss to your case.