(June 10, 2016) The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) agreed today to pay $75,000 to a woman assaulted at one of its I-10 weigh stations by a male FDOT employee. The lawsuit, which I filed on behalf of the victim, alleged that the FDOT worker – apparently angry that the woman refused his sexual advances – grabbed her by the neck and choked her. An FDOT manager who formerly worked as a Florida state trooper testified in deposition that he considered the attack a crime. Disappointingly, however, FDOT merely suspended the employee for three days and then returned him to work.
There was no evidence the assailant had attacked female coworkers in a similar manner in the past. But FDOT, like all employers, is required to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment. The law holds employers responsible for the acts of its employees even in the absence of prior similar incidents.
No employee is required to tolerate this kind of conduct. Employees who experience threatening verbal or physical behavior should report it immediately to a supervisor or HR manager. Most workplaces have handbooks that explain exactly how, and to whom, such conduct should be reported. Employees should always follow the exact reporting procedure given; failing to follow the procedure can jeopardize the employee’s legal rights. Employees should also consider talking to an employee rights lawyer, who can guide the employer in dealing with the harasser as well as the employer.