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Was a School Employee Sexually Harassed by a 10-Year Old?

Has the world gone mad?  Is a 10-year old girl capable of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment so serious that a school employee had to stop performing his job duties?  This employee thought so.  Kevin Wilson, a male “para-professional” at a Maryland elementary school, claimed that a 10-year old female student sexually harassed him.  He said the girl bumped into him three times, and on one occasion her forearm touched his buttocks.  Also, another student told the para-professional that the “harasser” said “hello.”  He complained to the school’s administration, which promptly moved the girl to a different class. 

Wilson demanded the girl sign a contract consenting to a restraining order guaranteeing she would not come near him again.  On three separate occasions he demanded school administrators make the girl sign it.  However, the principal determined the harassment had ceased once she was moved to a different class, and therefore there was no need for such a contract.  Wilson then contacted the girl’s mother directly, but was unsuccessful in having the contract signed.

Next, the para-professional informed the principal that he would no longer supervise an autistic student at lunchtime, a duty that was part of his job description.  The principal fired Wilson for insubordination – refusing to perform his job duties.  Wilson filed a lawsuit in Federal court claiming the school fired him because of his sex.  In addition, the lawsuit claimed the student’s actions constituted sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment.

The Federal District Court Judge found this was simply immature behavior from a 10-year old and in no way reached the level of harassment.  There was no sexual component to the child’s actions; therefore there was no sexual harassment.  In order to find a hostile work environment, there must be proof that the conduct interfered with the employee’s job duties.  Here, the girl’s conduct did not interfere with his job duties; rather he simply voluntarily stopped doing them.  The school moved the girl to another class shortly after the complaints were made and the “harassment” stopped.  In addition, the school did not fire Wilson because of his sex.  His insubordination gave school administrators a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing him.

Such a frivolous claim by an employee wastes a court’s time and resources.  It is yet another example of the increase in frivolous discrimination complaints by employees.  The school’s swift action in addressing the alleged harassment is a great example to all employers.  Employers should be sure to have strong harassment-free policies in place and should train all supervisors on how to handle such situations.  Then when unreasonable claims are made by employees, swift action can be taken to stop such frivolous claims. 

Brody and Associates regularly provides training and counseling on maintaining a harassment free environment and on employment law issues in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.