None of that protected the hospital from being named in a lawsuit last week that alleged an Anniston city councilman harassed an RMC employee. But legal experts say it could be a defense for the hospital if the case winds up in court.
“It gives you a certain defense to a claim,” said University of Alabama law professor James Leonard, who teaches courses on employment discrimination. “If you can convince a court that you have an adequate policy, then you basically have a defense against a monetary suit.”
City Councilman David Dawson was named as principal defendant in a lawsuit filed last week by Kay Dodd, an RMC employee who alleges Dawson sexually harassed and sexually assaulted her. Until recently, Dawson worked at Anniston Pathology Management Services, a pathology company that works closely with RMC. The lawsuit alleges that Dawson made dirty jokes containing sexual suggestions and situations, discussed his sexual prowess and abilities in bed, gave inappropriate and sexually explicit greeting cards and ultimately sexually assaulted Dodd by straddling her in a chair and touching her inappropriately.
Dawson declined comment on the suit Monday. Attempts to reach him Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The suit also alleges that RMC and Anniston Pathology displayed “thoughtlessness, heedlessness and lack of due care” in failing to respond to Dodd’s complaints about the behavior.
A review of RMC’s sexual harassment policy indicates that if the allegations in the suit are true, the events listed in the suit contradicted the hospital’s policy.
The hospital denied The Star’s request for a copy of that policy Tuesday.
“We are unable to comment further at this time,” RMC spokeswoman Hilary Folsom said in an email to The Star.
Repeated phone messages and emails sent to RMC requesting a copy of the hospital’s policy were not returned Tuesday.
Still, The Star obtained a copy of an RMC employee handbook Tuesday, which was last updated Feb. 1. The handbook includes the hospital’s policy regarding harassment.
According to the handbook, “the policy applies to management and non-management employees alike, and even to non-employees who harass our employees.”
Examples of sexual harassment listed in RMC’s policy include jokes or comments, physical assaults or other touching that is sexual in nature and punishing an employee for complaining of sexual harassment.
Legal experts consulted by The Star say the policy corresponds with a proper policy on sexual harassment.
Leonard said a good anti-sexual harassment policy must indicate what conduct is forbidden among employees.
“And there has to be a way for a grieved employee to report sexual harassment,” Leonard said.
The lawsuit states that Dodd reported the incident to RMC and did not receive a call back on the matter for four days. As a result of her complaint, Dawson was banned from RMC for two weeks with pay, the lawsuit states.
Lawyer Allen D. Arnold. with the Arendall and Arnold law firm in Birmingham, who represents many victims of sexual harassment, said businesses aren’t legally required to have a sexual harassment policy.
Arnold noted, however, that legal precedent indicates businesses must address claims of sexual harassment anyway.
“Vicarious liability is attached once an employer is on notice about harassment and it must take methods to correct that problem,” Arnold said.
Emanuel Smith, regional attorney for the Birmingham district office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC, said many of the sexual harassment complaints he sees do not come about because the businesses in question did not have proper discrimination policies.
“It’s usually because they don’t follow their policy,” Smith said. “Many companies now have policies, but despite that, sexual harassment is still very prominent in the workplace.”
According to the EEOC, 11,364 sexual harassment claims were filed with the agency in 2011, while 11,717 were filed in 2010.
Arnold agreed with Smith that many companies sued for sexual harassment were discovered not to have adhered to their own policies.
“Generally, what I see is a company will hear the complaint and then do everything in their power to discredit the complainant,” Arnold said. “They just use the policy to cover themselves legally. That’s not every company … I do think many take sexual harassment very seriously. But typically, the ones that end up in court have tried to cover it up.”
Arnold and Leonard agreed that most sexual harassment lawsuits are settled and never make it to court.
“If you have witnesses and it’s about a rather egregious offense, you can almost hear the cash registers ringing,” Leonard said with a laugh. “It’s almost always cheaper to settle it than have it go to court.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star