Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (7)6 Jun 99

Quick Summary: An employer ratifies the conduct of an employee when a supervisor fails to take action after finding out about conduct that would lead a person of ordinary prudence to investigate and remedy the conduct.  COURT OF APPEALS OF NORTH CAROLINA, 1998.

   A female worker in a university hospital’s sterile processing department was subjected to harassment by a male co-worker. The supervisor did not take her complaints seriously and did nothing. His attitude was the male employee liked to joke around and haze new employees.

   After eight months the female worker filed a complaint with the university police department for an apparent rape threat, which was investigated by a female officer. When the officer questioned their supervisor he finally assigned them to different shifts. Nevertheless, the female employee had a nervous breakdown. She sued and was awarded $500,000 damages.

   The Court of Appeals of North Carolina refused to be swayed by the hospital’s contentions. The hospital contended the supervisor did not know the man intimidated co-workers and harassed this female employee. The court refused to believe the supervisor was not the proper person to whom to complain and lacked authority to separate them or to discipline or fire him.

   When management knows about an employee’s inappropriate conduct and fails to act, the employer ratifies the conduct and can be held liable for damages in a civil lawsuit, the court ruled. Watson v. Dixon, 502 S.E. 2d 15 (N.C. App., 1998).