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Publication

November 13, 2003Client Alert

Supervisor’s Bet With Customer About Customer’s Chances of Engaging in Sexual Conduct with Employee Insufficient to Show Hostile Work Environment

In a recent Northern District of Illinois decision, the Court ruled that a bet between a supervisor and customer regarding the customer's ability to engage in sexual conduct with an employee was an isolated incident of sexual harassment and not sufficient to constitute a hostile work environment. In Angevine v. WaterSaver Faucet Co., the plaintiff, Rebecca Angevine, a customer services coordinator for WaterSaver Faucet Company, worked with Mike Straughn WaterSaver's regional sales manager.

In March of 2002, Angevine attended a trade show in New Orleans with other company personnel, including Straughn. At the show, Angevine went to dinner with WaterSaver customer Doug Prestch, who revealed to her that he and Straughn made a bet that Prestch could engage in sexual relations with her. Angevine reported the bet to WaterSaver's CEO, Steve Kersten. Kersten promptly investigated the complaint and determined that Straughn's participation in the bet was done to placate an intoxicated customer and that no formal discipline was warranted against Straughn. Angevine filed a federal lawsuit for sexual harassment against WaterSaver alleging that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and that after she reported the bet the office environment became more hostile.

The Court granted summary judgment to WaterSaver, noting that Angevine complained of only one timely incident, the incident did not involve a direct assault or touching of intimate body parts, and Straughn did not have significant supervisory authority over Angevine. The Court held that "the described incident could be characterized as unwelcome verbal conduct of a sexual nature" and "an example of crude and offensive behavior," but that it was an isolated event that could not, by itself, establish hostile environment sexual harassment.

For further information concerning the implications of this case, please contact Brian P. Paul at bppaul@michaelbest.com or 312.527.6843.

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