Liability for Supervisor’s Sexual Relations With Minor

By James Hatch

Sep. 13, 2006

Jane Doe was a 16-year-old ice cream “scooper” at the company’s store. Matt Nayman, her 25-year-old shift supervisor, regularly “hit on” Doe and other teenage girls in the ice cream parlor. Nayman groped, kissed, grabbed butts, hugged and touched the girls’ breasts. He also invited the girls to his apartment, and had sexual intercourse with two of them.

    When Doe, one of the girls who had sex, sued for sex harassment, the company argued that the alleged harassment was consensual and, hence, Doe welcomed Nayman’s sexual advances.

    Although recognizing that the age of consent is different in different states (in Illinois Nayman committed statutory rape–that is, intercourse with an underage person), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago held that consent to sexual relations with a co-worker or supervisor is not a defense in a Title VII suit for sexual harassment brought by a plaintiff who was underage.

    As the 7th Circuit recognized, the fact that Nayman was often the only supervisor in the ice cream parlor and that the workers he was supervising were mostly inexperienced teenagers created a risk of harassment by him that required his employer to take greater care. This was particularly so since other shift supervisors were aware of Nayman’s sexually aggressive behaviors with teenage ice cream scoopers. Doe v. Oberweis Dairy, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 18945 (7th Cir. July 28, 2006).

    Impact: Particularly where minors are employed in the workplace, employers are cautioned to take normal preventive steps, including training, to prevent sexually harassing conduct.

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