The Problem May Not Be Your Supervisor!
Although we’d like to think that someone with the audacity to harass or bully a coworker would do so out of sight of other employees, often other staff will witness or overhear the harassment. Let’s not forget, one of the best parts of harassment, from the perpetrator’s point of view, is the public humiliation (among staff) that the victim must suffer through. Embarrassing the victim is a huge payoff for people who engage in this behavior. It’s the humiliation that will help to isolate the target of the harassment and that may help persuade the victim to transfer to another department or resign from their job.
Just because an employee is not being harassed by someone in authority doesn’t mean that employers aren’t liable for any damage caused by the mistreatment. So, if you’re being harassed by someone senior to you (with no authority over you), someone who’s the same level as you or even by someone that is junior to you, your employer may still be liable for damage to your career, etc.
In the decision for Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2289 the Supreme Court said, “When harassment is perpetrated by the plaintiff’s coworkers, an employer will be liable if the plaintiff demonstrates that ‘the employer either provided no reasonable avenue for complaint [you didn’t have a way to complain of mistreatment] or knew of the harassment but did nothing about it.’”
On top of that, the EEOC states that an employer is liable for harassment by a co-worker or non-employer if management knew or should have known of the misconduct, unless the employer can show that it took immediate and appropriate corrective action.
So, if your coworker (or any workplace “non-employer”) is harassing you, your employer may be liable for punitive and/or other damages if they knew or should have known about your mistreatment because it was so prevalent and out-in-open in your workplace, but they did nothing about it! If your employer did take the right and immediate corrective actions against the person harassing you (e.g., transferring the perpetrator, firing the perpetrator, etc.), you may not be able to convince the court that your employer is liable for any damages.