Can A Sexual Harassment Claim Succeed Where Boss Instructs Employee To Date A Prospective Client?

office_chair_meeting_room-scaledWhen you think about sexual harassment claims, the first thing that likely comes to mind is a superior harassing another employee. However, what happens if the superior instructs another employee to date a prospective client? 

Tyanne Davenport was hired to be the administrator at an Edward Jones Office. On multiple occasions, the office owner insulted, shouted at, and used profanity to describe Davenport. The owner’s comments eventually became sexual in nature. When the owner learned a wealthy prospective client wanted to date Davenport, the owner told Davenport to date the prospective client to receive a big bonus. Davenport said she already had a boyfriend and was not interested in dating the prospective client. The owner told her this about three additional times within the next month. One of the financial advisors made a comment about Davenport sending the prospective client some nude photos, which embarrassed and offended Davenport. Davenport never dated the prospective client. 

Davenport reported the incident with the comment about nude photos to the district manager, who forwarded the complaint to an associate relations representative. Davenport filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Although she referenced the incident involving comments about nude photos, she did not reference the manager’s offers to pay her a big bonus if she dated the prospective client. Over the next few months, Davenport met with a therapist who advised the company Davenport should not go back to the same office because of trauma from the incidents. She requested a transfer to another office, which was denied. Davenport eventually resigned. 

After she resigned, Edward Jones sent her letters about possible employment options, including transferring to a different branch or looking into other positions. Davenport turned down these offers and went to work for another company. The EEOC then gave her a right-to-sue notice. She filed a lawsuit, alleging quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment claims under Title VII and related state law claims. Edward Jones filed a summary judgment motion, which the trial court granted in full. Davenport appealed the constructive discharge and bonus-based quid pro quo claims. 

On appeal, Davenport first argued the trial court erred in dismissing her constructive discharge quid pro quo claim because she was constructively discharged after refusing to date the prospective client. Edward Jones argued she had not exhausted her administrative remedies and could not provide evidence to establish a reasonable person would have felt the need to resign because of the work conditions. Here, Davenport did not allege anything suggesting she had suffered such severe harassment a reasonable person would have felt the need to resign. She only alleged other employees had discussed nude photos in front of her. She did not link this incident to her decision to resign from Edward Jones. Therefore, the appellate court agreed the trial court had properly dismissed her constructive discharge quid pro quo claim.

Davenport also argued the trial court erred in dismissing her bonus-based quid pro quo claim because the owner promised her a “big bonus” if she dated the wealthy prospective client. The appellate court agreed denial of a bonus could be a tangible employment action for quid pro quo claims. See Russell v. Principi. Although Davenport claimed to have been promised a bonus, she did not provide sufficient evidence that such a bonus was available or that she was eligible for and denied such a bonus. Therefore, the appellate court also agreed the trial court properly dismissed Davenport’s bonus-based quid pro quo claim. 

As Davenport learned here, it is essential to provide sufficient evidence to succeed in a sexual harassment case. If you feel like you are dealing with sexual harassment at work, it is essential to consult with a good attorney who can advise you on a potential lawsuit. 

Additional Sources: Tyanne Davenport v. Edward D. Jones & Co. 

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Title VII Claims: Unveiling the Shield: Understanding Retaliation Protections and Discrimination Claims under Title VII

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