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US court awards $95 million in workplace sexual harassment case

 Think your employees can be a handful?

Well, just be pleased you're not working at Aaron's, a US rent-to-own furniture company. A store manager's aggressive sexual harassment of an employee has seen the company ordered to pay a hefty US$95 million in compensation.

It's a tawdry tale. Ashley Alford started with the company in October 2005. Over the next 12 months, she was repeatedly groped and ridiculed by store manager Richard Moore. The case involved a series of shocking incidents, culminating in Moore pinning Alford to the floor in a store room and performing a series of lewd acts in October 2006. 

What is perhaps most terrible about this particular case is how poorly the company managed Alford's complaints. Despite established harassment and discrimination policies and a toll-free number for employees to report harassment or discrimination, the company was slow to react to Alford's complaints and reluctant to investigate. In the hearing before the US District Court, Aaron's employee relations specialist confessed that she often let calls to the hotline go to voicemail. In fact, only 11 percent of sexual harassment calls to the hotline were answered.

Salacious detail aside, the case highlights the importance of prompt, appropriate responses to sexual harassment claims. It also makes clear that having policies in place isn't enough. Employers must educate employees about their rights and responsibilities and must take seriously any such claims.

iHR offers a range of training programs to help reduce workplace risk including our EEO, anti-bullying, harassment and discrimination training in which professional actors re-enact real-life workplace situations. Participants then identify and address inappropriate workplace behaviours.

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