Jan 29, 2010

When One Business Sexually Harasses Another

A few weeks ago, an appeals court in New Jersey decided, in J.T.'s Tire Service v. United Rentals North America, that one business can sue another business for quid pro quo sexual harassment. If you're wondering how one business might make sexual advances toward another, the answer is: the old-fashioned way, with wandering hands and unwanted sexual propositions.

The facts of the case allege that Harold, the manager of an equipment rental company, stopped buying tires from Eileen, owner of a tire service, after she refused his sexual advances. She had been selling to the company for almost ten years, earning about $29,000 monthly from the account. After she rejected Harold's advances, he kissed and groped her, delayed payments to her company, and then stopped doing business with her altogether.

She (and her business) sued under a section of New Jersey's nondiscrimination law that makes it illegal to refuse to contract or do business with any person on the basis of a protected characteristic, including gender. The court found that Eileen faced quid pro quo sexual harassment, a form of gender discrimination that violated the statute. The court added that allowing such conduct would create barriers to a woman's ability to run a business on an equal footing with men, and was therefore exactly what the legislature was trying to get at when it passed this antidiscrimination provision.

To learn more about sexual harassment in the workplace, see Nolo's Preventing Employment Discrimination & Sexual Harassment area.