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Jury awards millions to former police officer in harassment claim

There are laws in Texas that protect men and women from sexual harassment in the workplace. The difficulty, especially in building a defense against allegations, can be in determining what is and isn't sexual harassment. Joking, teasing and conversation of a sexual nature can cause problems in work situations – or not. Unwelcome advances or requests for sexual favors are obvious behaviors that can interfere with work performance. Should discouraging or refusing these types of situations result in adverse employment actions, legal recourse is available.

The laws don't distinguish between civilian and government workplaces. A former female police officer claimed her supervisor sexually harassed her. As recommended, she followed proper procedures whereby she complained about the offensive behavior. She reportedly claims that after she complained, her duties changed to unfavorable shifts, her performance reviews were affected unfairly and requests for training time were denied.

In her lawsuit filed in 2011, a jury heard evidence that included allegations that the sergeant created a mock wanted poster containing her picture and sexual comments. He asked her to skinny dip with him. He invited her to sit on his lap. They awarded the plaintiff $7.5 million, likely the highest award of this type in that state's history. According to her counsel, $300,000 was earmarked as compensation, and the balance of the award is punitive damages for retaliation. He further opined it's possible the amount could be reduced if an appeal is heard.

The accused harasser needed an effective defense. Investigation of sexual harassment charges includes in-depth study of the circumstances included in the complaint. Allegations are evaluated in context. Facts are studied in each individual case because the issues can be subject to interpretation and intent. The denial by the defendant that he made the flier and the co-workers' rebuttals of the other charges were not sufficient to sway the jury in this case.

The accusation of sexual harassment can do great damage to a professional's career and should not be taken lightly. Guided cooperation with investigators can be helpful. Serious criminal defense strategies based on thorough evaluation of the evidence may provide the best chance to avoid life-changing penalties.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Harassed Cop Wins $7.5 Million Jury Award" Joe Harris, Mar. 25, 2014

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