Happy Valentine’s Day!
While this holiday of (ahem) love may bring back fond memories of grade-school card and candy swapping, it’s important to remember that bringing romance into the workplace – even (or maybe especially) on Valentine’s Day – presents risks, most notably of a sexual harassment/hostile work environment lawsuit.
Consider, for example, the case of Pugni v. Reader’s Digest Ass’n, Inc., No. 05 CIV. 8026 CM, 2007 WL 1087183 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 9, 2007). There, the court denied in part defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claim. The court summarized one aspect of the case:
As an example of [plaintiff’s supervisor and friend] D’Urso’s inappropriate behavior toward her, plaintiff testified about a specific incident that occured on February 11 when D’Urso walked into the office and interrupted a business conversation among [various employees including] plaintiff. When plaintiff responded to him, D’Urso allegedly said, “Now you’re not going to get your Valentine’s Day present,” to which plaintiff testifies she answered: “We are not dating. I am not your girlfriend.”
In another case, Gracia v. Sigmatron Int’l, Inc., No. 11-cv-7604 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 25, 2013), the court cited (among other evidence) “individual deliveries of pastries on Valentine’s Day” to support its conclusion that the alleged harasser “pursued a romantic relationship with [plaintiff] and was thus motivated by [plaintiff]’s gender.”
While there were other facts supporting plaintiff’s claims in these cases, they nonetheless serve as cautionary reminders as to how workplace Valentine’s Day shenanigans can lead to litigation.