Colorado Department of Veterans’ Affairs Under Sex Harassment Scrutiny

Without proper training and strict guidelines it is easy for one bad apple to spoil the entire workplace. The old cliché fits perfectly for the situation that is going on within the Colorado Veterans’ Administration (“VA”), where a group of women have come forward with allegations that a supervising male Registered Nurse harassed them and made them feel extremely uncomfortable in the workplace. As the following paragraphs will show, this classic case of workplace misconduct checks all of the major boxes that are covered in a sex harassment training session. Don’t be the next company to fall victim to an uneducated supervisor harassing your employees; if true, this situation is bad and will only get worse when the lawsuits are filed.

A certified nursing assistant and phlebotomist named Andrea Carter worked for a staffing agency that placed her into an Aurora, Colorado outpatient clinic operated by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Carter claims she was pleased with the work, and felt the position was a good opportunity to advance her career. However, soon after beginning work a male nurse began making her feel uncomfortable. Predictably, the first incident of misconduct involved a verbal “joke” wherein the nurse asked Carter whether “she had any Irish in her,” with the punch line “would you like one?”

Incidents of verbal abuse such as the aforementioned “joke” are frequently the first scenario discussed in online sex harassment training courses. This is because stories like the Colorado VA are all too common. As the perpetrator continues to engage in verbal harassment he or she frequently proceeds to written insults and hostility, as was the case when the male nurse wrote a series of emails to Carter stating “I think you need attention . . . loud, satisfying, oral attention.”

Complicating the situation at hand (and taking a further page out of a sex harassment ‘how not to act’ PowerPoint), the nurse was known as the “office prankster,” and had a reputation for ‘harmless’ fun. Unfortunately, his behavior was actually offending and intimidating a variety of women at the clinic, all of whom he supervised.

Continuing the nurse’s predictable line of behavior, Carter alleges that he began physically harassing her by placing his crotch on her desk or rubbing against her. This behavior culminated in an incident where the nurse allegedly approached Carter from behind and began kissing her neck and asking for oral sex. Upon getting the nurse away from her Carter complained to human resources and other co-workers, many of whom told Carter they had similar encounters with this particular supervising nurse.

Alas, the quintessential sex harassment story would not be complete without subsequent retaliation for Carter’s complaint. Sure enough, after Carter and the other women complained of the nurse’s behavior Carter was offered a transfer to a position in downtown Denver, something she viewed as a downgrade in opportunity as well as geographic location. Months later, neither the nurse nor Carter work at the clinic, and the situation remains unresolved.

The aforementioned allegations are shocking, and appear to be a trip back in time to a bygone era of unchecked harassment of women by their male supervisors. Assuming Carter’s (and the other women’s’) allegations are true it is highly likely that the Colorado VA must not have engaged in any sort of training program to teach their supervisors the dangers of harassment in the workplace. If they did, they likely did not follow up with supervisors to ensure that they were well educated and well informed as to what constitutes illegal workplace harassment.

In addition to the substantial liability the Administration will incur when the lawsuits stemming from this series of incidents are undoubtedly filed, this kind of behavior is a black eye on the entire facility. Clearly there were a series of women who were harassed by this particular nurse, yet [correctly] feared retaliation if they complained. The impact on workplace productivity and morale alone is significant. By merely engaging in cost-effective online training the facility could have reduced the likelihood that this behavior occurred at all and promoted a culture where it is acceptable to report such incidents without fear of retaliation.

Syntrio understands the need to balance costs with employee morale and the need for a legally compliant work environment. Therefore, we can help train your managers on the nuances of sexual harassment that will not only keep you compliant with the law, but will foster a positive reputation within the community and within the office itself.  Contact Syntrio for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your business!


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