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Harassment North Carolina

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  • Harassment North Carolina

    What if my former employer told my current employer that they fired me for sexual harassment and that's why they don't want me on their job sites and the alleged harassment never happened?

    What happened was I was talking trash with my coworkers on a construction jobsite and I said something inappropriate that female coworker overheard. I know she was offended because she got mad and walked off. I was talking to my coworkers and she was behind me. They were also using inappropriate language.

    The next morning I apologized to her. I told her I was sorry for talking that way in front of her and what I said was inappropriate. She accepted my apology saying quote "That’s alright, I hear it all the time”, which she was right. The type of language we were using, I also heard it all the time, both in the office and on the jobsites and the management knew about it too. And I had only been there two weeks. Late that same day I find out that I'm in trouble. My managers tell me that there writing me up for sexual harassment. I the time I figured, well, she had the right to report me.

    I and my managers did not get along, to make a long story short, from the very beginning. We had a personality conflict and did not “click”. I also said some derogatory things to my coworker about my managers and he stabbed me in the back and told them what I said. My coworker, who evidently was pretending to be my friend, also constantly criticized the management. But as soon as I said something, he went and told them what I said.

    So at the end of my first review period they let me go citing three events of unacceptable performance, one being sexual harrassment. They said I was a probationary employee at the time, so they said. But after I was gone, I went to look at my personnel file to see what they put in there and my employment status while I was employed said "Full-Time Regular". I also had medical insurance and was putting money in the state retirement system. So evidently I was a regular employee, not a probationary one. I therefore had all the rights of a full-time employee while I was there.

    After I was gone, I found out that the girl I offended did not report me to my managers. It was a jealous coworker, the same coworker who was stabbing me in the back that I mention above and also, who was not at the site of the alleged event. And I do know this for a fact or at least there’s a high probability that it she didn’t report me.

    I went to a labor lawyer about this. I told him, “I want to get this garbage off of my record”. He said, “They can classify it like that as long as they keep it within their walls and don’t let it out. But if they do let it out, then that’s a different story”. At my current employer, I’ve made sure not to tell anyone about the alleged harrassment event. During my job interview with my current employer, I told my current employer that I was let go at the end of my probationary period from my previous employer because me and the management did not click and that’s all I told them. So if my current employer does know about the alleged harrassment event, then it’s because my previous employer told them.
    My previous employer is a client of my current employer. Ever since I’ve been at my current job, I’ve noticed that my previous employer hasn’t been giving us much work. When I first got there, they gave us a lot of work. Now they don’t give us much work at all, they give us some but very little. This automatically made me suspicious.

    I have been at my current job now for about a year and a half. In past year or so, I have overheard conversations between my manager and others. My office is right across the hall from my manager’s, so sometimes I overhear things. One time I overheard my manager and the branch manager talking and this is what I hear:

    My manager: “Have you talked to the City lately.”
    Branch manager: “Yeah, I talked to them. They said that everything’s good to go, except, you know, for Adam.”

    Another time I overheard my manager and one of my coworkers talking and this is what I hear:

    My coworker: “Why exactly doesn’t the City want Adam on their job sites?”
    My manager: “They got him for harassment.”

    I haven’t confronted them about this yet and I’m not sure I want too, I’m just sitting back waiting to see what happens. But would like to know what my options are in case things eventually come to a head. Can my previous employer do this just because I ticked them off? What are my options?

    I thank you in advance for any input about my situation.

  • #2
    Ask us a question.
    “Be not niggardly of what costs thee nothing, as courtesy, counsel, & countenance.”

    --Benjamin Franklin


    • #3

      Could I sue my previous employer for defamination, would I have a case? If I choose or could to sue them, I would want damages. In your experience, what amount of damages could I possibly get if I won and approximately how much would it cost in attorney fees?


      • #4
        Yes, you can sue your previous employer for defamation. The statute of limitations for this in NC is fairly short, so do not delay.

        I would suggest that you consider first how you are going to prove it. Defamation, to be actionable, must be "published" to someone. You need to figure out who published what to whom. Sounds like someone told your current manager something about harrassment. You need to find out more details as to what was said to your current employer, who said it, and when it was said. When you get that info, go back to the labor lawyer to see if he or she wants to take the case.

        What are your damages? How have you been harmed? You are working, apparently, and you did not post any indication of how you have been harmed economically. You may have a perfectly good case on liability but have no case on damages.

        You could sue to force them to stop telling lies about you, but you will be paying a lawyer by the hour for that suit. That will be expensive. If you can show how you were damaged, it will be easier to get a lawyer to help you.

        Good luck.
        Bob Bollinger, Attorney
        Board Certified Specialist in NC Workers' Compensation Law
        Charlotte, NC


        • #5

          Thanks for taking time to read my post and also your imput. Can't "publishing" be in the form of either "by word of mouth" or in writing? I don't know if they sent something in writing or not but I'm pretty sure that they told it. The reason I haven't ask my supervisor about this is because I'm afraid of "self-publishing". If I do decide to pursue this, I don't want to do something to ruin my case. Do you think I should confront my supervisor about this?



          • #6
            Yes, "publishing" a defamatory comment can be oral or written. I think the only way you are going to find out what they said about you is by asking your supervisor what they told him. I am not sure "confrontation" is the best approach. You need his cooperation, so don't go in with your guns blazing.
            Bob Bollinger, Attorney
            Board Certified Specialist in NC Workers' Compensation Law
            Charlotte, NC


            • #7
              Not trying to be contrary here but the former employer did fire you for sexual harassment, or what they consider harassment. It doesn't matter who reports it, if you were speaking inappropriately for the workplace in a derogatory manner toward women and one heard you, that could be seen as sexual harssment. You weren't let go because your probationary period ended.

              It would not be illegal for the former employer to share information that they believe to be true. I can't imagine being thrilled to work with a company that employs someone who was fired for unacceptable performance, and making inappropriate comments about current employees on at least 2 occassions. I'm not seeing how any of this has harmed you personally though.

              The statute of limitations on slander/libel/defamation claims in NC is 1 year. If all this happened a year and a half ago, you are probably too late.
              I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.


              • #8
                The statute of limitations is one year from the last date of publication of the defamatory comment, not from the date of the firing.

                Truth is a complete defense to a defamation claim. However, the idea of "sexual harrassment" has a good amount of subjectiveness in it, so it is hard to tell exactly what the "truth" will turn out to be. Is offensive language on a construction site that is not directed to the woman, but overheard by her, enough to constitute "sexual harassment" of her as a matter of law? I doubt it. I am not aware that there are any cases holding that an overheard conversation constitutes harassment. So, it is possible that you could win a defamation case, if they are telling employers that they let you go for sexual harassment. The employer's opinion that harrassment occurred is not necessarily the "truth" so far as its defense to defamation is concerned. The employer acted on its opinion, rather than a hard fact.

                Then again, as I mentioned earlier, and as the last poster indicated, how have you been harmed or damaged? That is a key question in your claim as well. No harm, no case.
                Bob Bollinger, Attorney
                Board Certified Specialist in NC Workers' Compensation Law
                Charlotte, NC


                • #9
                  Why would it have to reach the level of sexual harassment under the law before it could be classified that way by the company? Certainly a company can have a much lower threshold as a matter of policy than the courts use to hold an employer legally liable. If employers can not terminate an employee unless and until the behavior becomes so objectionable that it rises to the level of conduct that the courts would sanction the employer, employers are stuck. They either have to permit objectionable behavior until it reaches that high standard, or terminate and give no reason for doing so. I've only terminated a few employees over the years for violating our sexual harssment policy, none of which rose to the level of conduct that most courts would find sexual harassment. There doesn't seem to be any dispute that this was how the employer characterized it from the get go as the OP was written up for SH.

                  Logically it does not make sense. There is no bright line that indicates when something is sexual harassment and when it is not. Even among the circuits there is considerable disagreement. Which court do you look at? While one overheard comment would *probably* not be enough to warrant a finding of SH in court, I can see cases where this could. We don't know what was said, or what the OP's position was, or his role in making decisions within the organization.

                  I'm not rtying to start an argument but do you have any defamation cases where the plantiff prevailed because the conduct did not meet the legal definition of harassment?
                  I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.


                  • #10
                    They Know its not True

                    In my personnel file that my previous employer has, there is a document called "Assessment of Initial 6 Months Performance for "blank" (ME)" which documents my performance while I was there. They used three specific events of "unacceptable performance" to terminate me at the end of what they called my probationary period (I was really a Full-Time regular employee according to my personnel file).
                    1. "A Negative performance Incident related to sexual harassment"
                    The alledged harassment event, notice it says "related to".
                    2. "Improper judgement and disrespectful interaction with a property owner at a construction site"
                    I got into an aurgument with a homeowner who was yelling in my face. By the way, one of my supervisors amitted after the incident that he thought she was "crazy" also.
                    3. "Disregard for or poor judgement related to job safety"
                    I was standing on the removed cover next to a manhole. My supervisor was looking into the manhole at the time. He pushed me off of the manhole cover yelling "get off of there, you could fall in".

                    Notice they say "related to". They dodged classifying the incident as "sexual harassment". So when they wrote my performance assessment, they knew that the events that occured did not meet up to the criteria needed to classify it as "sexual harassment".

                    They really terminated me because I was talking trash about them with my coworker in the field. He was pretending to be my friend, pushing my buttons, then telling my supervisors what I said. They did not document the statements I made to my coworker in performance assessment as reason for my termination. At the end of what they called "my probationary period", I think came to the conclusion that I did not respect them as my supervisors. So they used the above three items to terminate me.

                    My coworker was always saying that the supervisors were "**** heads" and basically has, in my opinion, has one of the filthiest mouths up there. He is also the same coworker who turned me in for harassment. Him and my other coworkers were always making sexual remarks to me and other people in the office and in the field. I even witnessed one of my supervisors, who wrote my performance assessment, tell a girl she "had a cute butt" in front of my other supervisors.

                    So they clearly were holding me to a different standard than everyone else. They basically fired me for the same stuff that everyone else did because I did not like them and they did not like me.

                    Speaking of being damaged. I don't know anybody who would want a reputation as a sex offender. And think that them telling my current employer that I was fired for harassment and not giving them any work because they don't want me on their job sites is BS.


                    • #11
                      Elle, here was my thinking: If Employer tells someone it fired OP due to his sexual harrassment of a coworker, but the conduct of OP did not actually rise to that level, then the Employer cannot use "truth" as a defense to OP's defamation action. Employer has basically lied about it. Employer should have simply said, it did not work out and we had to let him go. Employer messed up when it told another party why it fired OP. Which is why you probably should not tell anyone why you fired a former employee, including the fired person, unless you are required to do so.

                      The Employer in NC can certainly fire OP for the conduct, regardless of what you call it, as he is an employee at will and can be fired for any reason that is not illegal.

                      But the issue is more complicated in a defamation claim. A jury in that case would have to decide if the OP's conduct rose to the level of sexual harrassment. IF so, then "truth" would be a defense to the defamation claim and OP loses. IF not, then Employer loses on the defamation claim because it overstated the nature of OP's conduct.
                      Bob Bollinger, Attorney
                      Board Certified Specialist in NC Workers' Compensation Law
                      Charlotte, NC


                      • #12
                        Adam, in NC they can legally fire you if they don't like you, unless you have a contract of employment for a certain term. Or they can fire you legally if they mistakenly think you sexually harrassed someone.

                        So the real issue here is the defamation problem. If they are telling folks you sexually harrassed someone and it is not true, then that is where they are doing wrong.
                        Bob Bollinger, Attorney
                        Board Certified Specialist in NC Workers' Compensation Law
                        Charlotte, NC


                        • #13
                          Not a mistake

                          They didn't mistakenly think I sexually harrassed someone, they classified it like that in or to get rid of me.

                          And here's another issue. My previous employer is a client of my current employer. They are not giving my current employer work because they don't want me on their job sites. Is that blacklisting someone?


                          • #14
                            I read the "related to" as a verbose way of saying it was sexual harassment as they saw it. I find it totally irrelevant that it most likely didn't meet the legal standard for sexual harassment. They told you that is what they were calling it when they wrote you up for it, so you can't claim to be blindsided by it nor is it a fabrication. Employers aren't expected to be courts and weigh evidence and judge whether something may or may not count as a legal violation. Heck, even when a matter does reach the courts it isn't a sure thing which side will ultimately prevail. I think it is a huge stretch to call this a lie simply because it is unlikely that a court would agree with the way the employer characterized the obviously inappropriate conduct. It isn't like the employer decided to call the safety violation sexual harassment just to justify the termination.

                            I certainly could see where the employer would not want someone who already had one violation of a sexual nature working on their projects in the future for liability reasons. Especially if this same woman is on the site and the OP hasn't learned to clean up his act at work, you are just asking for trouble.
                            I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.


                            The forum is intended for informational use only and should not be relied upon and is not a substitute for legal advice. The information contained on are opinions and suggestions of members and is not a representation of the opinions of does not warrant or vouch for the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any postings or the qualifications of any person responding. Please consult a legal expert or seek the services of an attorney in your area for more accuracy on your specific situation.