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Church in Whitestone, New York settles sexual harassment lawsuit

A Whitestone, New York Episcopal church has agreed to settle a sex harassment and retaliation lawsuit without taking the case to trial. Early settlement negotiations and conciliation efforts failed to result in settlement. However, officials have announced that the case has now settled for six figures in damages and other relief.

Many employment law issues can implicate difficult legal standards and factual disputes. Generally, factual disputes may need to be resolved at trial. But many cases eventual end up in a settlement after legal arguments are presented in a proceeding and factual issues are discussed in negotiations.

The recent New York sexual harassment lawsuit alleged that an interim rector at Grace Episcopal Church of Whitestone subjected two women to unwanted sexual advances, touching, remarks and other forms of harassment. The women say that the deacon grabbed their chests and kissed the women as a part of the hostile workplace activity.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that one of the women, who worked as a secretary at the church rebuffed the sexual advances of the interim deacon. The lawsuit alleged that the woman was fired in retaliation for rejecting the unwanted sexual advances.

Sexual harassment and hostile workplace laws protect workers from such egregious conduct. But like other workers' civil rights laws, laws prohibiting sex discrimination also protect workers who seek to address the issue of a hostile environment. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against a worker for complaining about workplace harassment.

In addition to monetary damages, the church has agreed to revise its policies and procedures related to sexual harassment issues in the workplace. Workplace discrimination and harassment laws are intended to eliminate such conduct from the workplace. Often, a settlement agreement can help companies to find better ways to address these issues to allow the protections to have meaning in eliminating the conduct.

Source: EEOC, "EEOC Settles Sex Harassment and Retaliation Suit Against Grace Church and Episcopal Diocese of L.I.," May 22, 2013

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