HR as Caesar’s Wife

By Bill Wright

An employee rejects a co-worker’s proposal of a physical relationship. The co-worker gets him fired. Is the employer liable for sex discrimination? This is different from earlier cat’s paw cases because the person who caused the discharge was a co-worker, not a supervisor, but according to one court, the standard for employer liability is negligence – just like other co-worker harassment cases. If the employer knew or should have known that the co-worker was motivated by discriminatory animus, the employer may be liable for the co-worker’s causing the termination. Velazquez-Perez v. Developers Diversified Realty Corp., No. 12-2226 (1st Cir. May 23, 2014).

What’s more, here, the co-worker was the human resources representative. Apparently employers have to scrutinize the circumstances of every HR recommendation to see whether the employer has any reason to investigate the HR rep.’s motives.