Spelling out anti-sex-harassment rules

LEGAL MATTERS

November 20, 1993|By Gary Cohn | Gary Cohn,Staff Writer

Now that the Supreme Court has made it easier for women to win sexual-harassment lawsuits, companies must be extremely

vigilant. Businesses should have clear, strong anti-harassment policies and procedures for investigating complaints and disciplining violators. They should let employees know, in plain English, what those policies are. Otherwise, they are more likely to be hit with a lawsuit.

That is the message that lawyers in Baltimore are giving their clients in the aftermath of the court's ruling. In a swift and unanimous ruling this month, the court ruled that women who say they were harassed in the workplace need not prove that they suffered psychological injury before they can collect a damage award.

"The real significance of the [Supreme Court] case is that employers are going to have to move quicker to eliminate offensive conduct," said Stephen Silverstri, a partner in the Baltimore law firm of Miles & Stockbridge.

Douglas S. McDowell, general counsel for the Equal Employment Advisory Council, agrees.

"A company that does not have a policy against sexual harassment that is communicated to the work force and enforced in an effective manner is extremely vulnerable to lawsuits," he said.

Although the court's ruling makes it easier for women to win claims, experts say that not every offensive act will result in a successful lawsuit.

"You don't have to prove psychological injury, but you do have to prove conduct or a pattern of conduct sufficiently severe or pervasive as to affect the work environment," said Pamela J. White, head of the employment law group at Ober, Kaler, Grimes Shriver.

The Supreme Court ruling won't change the way all companies do business.

"We've been trying to deal with the issue of harassment over the last couple of years in the broad sense," said Bill Boden, a vice president and director of personnel for the Rouse Co. of Columbia. "I don't think we'll be doing anything different or expanding."

ACLU of Maryland chooses a president

Ellen Adena Callegary, a longtime advocate of rights for the disadvantaged, has been elected president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, effective this month. Ms. Callegary, 41, succeeds Bert Booth, who headed the organization for the past three years.

Ms. Callegary, a native of Baltimore County and a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, worked for the Maryland state attorney general's office from 1979 to 1987. She spearheaded efforts to protect the rights of the disabled, people with mental illnesses and prisoners. She helped remove from mental hospitals hundreds of people who did not belong there, including a man who had been wrongly confined in a mental hospital as a child and had been held for more than 30 years.

Three years ago, she joined the law firm of Callegary & Callegary, which was founded by her father and uncle in the early 1950s.

One early priority at the ACLU: Opposing legislation that would make physician-assisted suicide a crime in Maryland. The law is unclear on the issue. Ms. Callegary said the ACLU would support an alternative plan to allow physicians to assist their patients to die in a peaceful way, provided that certain safeguards are met.

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