Denial of Injunction in Sexual Harassment Case An Abuse of Discretion

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “EEOC” sought an injunction against a grocery store where the offending manager had engaged in conduct of an egregious nature harassing female employees.  The conduct involved both verbal and physical harassment including inappropriate hugs and touching.  The manager also maintained a romantic relationship with the store’s owner.  The nature of the injunction included the following provisions:  (a) that employer may not create or maintain a hostile work environment or retaliate against individuals for engaging in Title VII protected activity; (b) that employer may not employ or otherwise compensate offending manager in any way, except for purchasing produce from him; (c) that employer must bar offending manager from entering the grocery store building; (d) that employer must produce and distribute copies of a notice indicating that offending manager was barred from entering the building, along with copies of said manager’s photograph; (e) that employer must pay for an independent monitor to continually review its employment practices and investigate possible instances of sexual harassment; (f) that employer must amend its nondiscrimination policy and complaint procedure in a variety ways, and prominently post the policy; (g) that employer must conduct an annual training session on sexual harassment for its employees; and (h) that the EEOC is authorized to monitor employer’s compliance with the injunction, and that it must cooperate in bi-annual EEOC compliance reviews.  See EEOC v. Karenkim, Inc

After a 14 day trial, the jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to a class of ten employees who had brought harassment complaints against the offending manager to the employer.  With regard to the injunction, the District Court found the provisions to be unduly burdensome in that it would last ten years, require employer to drastically alter its employment practices and require an independent monitor.   Also as a result of the harassment, the employer had instituted measures; including the termination and non-compensation of the offending manager, an employee handbook prohibiting such conduct and setting forth procedures for complaints, and instituted employee training to curb such behavior.   While finding some provisions sought to be overly broad and burdensome, particularly the independent monitor, the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court found the acts of sexual harassment complained of to be so egregious in nature some injunctive relief was required.  And although Courts are given a wide latitude in fashioning equitable relief, here they held that the District Court abused its discretion in denying injunctive relief.   The offending manager in this instance continued a long standing romantic relationship with the owner of the business thus possibly subjecting employees to future contact.  Therefore in spite of the rehabilitative measures set in place by the company, an injunction was necessary to ensure that said manager refrained from having any presence whatsoever at the company.  Clearly a case of egregious acts wherein the complaints fall on deaf ears will subject an employer to more onerous compliance requirements.  Having sound anti-harassment policies and procedures formally in place should mitigate against such drastic measures.  Therefore a company best be prepared to show a history of proactive engagement should an isolated instance of employee misconduct surface.