When the Rejected Seeks Revenge: When Sexual Harassment Is Both Quid Pro Quo & Retaliation

A North Dakota judge recently became a poster-child for why workplace romances often are banned:  natural human emotions often prompt unlawful or “high liability risk”  reactions.  In this case, which this article excerpts key portions of the investigation’s report, a judge’s efforts to date a court reporter were rejected.  In response, the wounded feelings of the judge apparently resulted in his misuse of his position and authority to “get her back.”

Apparently, the judge continued to pursue the court reporter by calling her into his chambers, emailing her to talk, etc.  Ultimately,the investigation noted, the court reporter emailed the judge:

“We are COWORKERS. Start acting like it! You are making me hate this job and feel ill having to come here because I don’t want to deal with you,” the woman wrote in a June 29, 2011, email. “There is no ‘problem,’ other than that I didn’t go along (with) your advances so now you are trying to make up problems to try and get rid of me, just like you told me you would do (get rid of me) if this were a private law firm.”

In one email, the court reporter summed up the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.  When the advance is unwelcome, the advances should stop.  When they don’t stop, the pursuit can create a hostile work environment.  Additionally, when the pursuer is spurned and then attempts to make the workplace unpleasant for the person, the conduct smacks of quid pro quo (“this for that”)sexual harassment because the benefits of employment are adversely affected – essentially making good on the threat that the person will only get to work in continued peace, on a regular and fair playing field if the person consented to the sexual advances.

Worse yet, the “revenge” for not accepting the advances is retaliation and, likely, unlawful retaliation.

In this case, the judge retained his position, but it appears that he will be heavily supervised moving forward and minimal contact with female co-workers will occur.  It is likely that the fall-out for this judge has just begun and that he can expect local lawyers to request his recusal on cases that involve sexual matters, harassment, domestic violence, discrimination, and more.


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