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Nominations sought for the Empire Star Public Service Award

This award recognizes exemplary employees of New York State serving in the Executive Branch.

Nominations must be submitted no later than December 15, 2017 and may be completed online.

For more information about the Empire Star Public Service Award, visit www.ny.gov/EmpireStarPublicService.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

An employee's unreasonable failure to use an employer-provided preventive or remedial apparatus bars the consideration of his or her complaints of unlawful discrimination


An employee's unreasonable failure to use an employer-provided preventive or remedial apparatus bars the consideration of his or her complaints of unlawful discrimination
Magnusson v. County of Suffolk, et al., USCA, 2nd Circuit, Docket #16-1876-cv

This civil rights action brought pursuant to Title VII and 42 U.S.C. §1983 was founded on allegations of sexual harassment and sexual orientation harassment.*

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, did not reach the merits of the question of whether the County’s conduct constituted sex discrimination would constitute a violations of Title VII and, or, 42 U.S.C. §1983 because the Plaintiff, Arline Magnusson, "failed to follow the County’s internal grievance procedures" available to her.

The Circuit Court explained that “An employer may defend against [a hostile work environment claim] by showing both (1) that it had installed a readily accessible and effective policy for reporting and resolving complaints of sexual harassment, and (2) that [Magnusson] unreasonably failed to avail herself of that employer-provided preventive or remedial apparatus.”

The federal district court's decision indicated that "the County maintained a sexual harassment policy for the entire term of [Magnusson] employment" and that Magnusson had received documents instructing her on the Department of Public Work's [DPW] sexual harassment reporting procedures from both the DPW and her own union.  

Magnusson, however, had never provided appropriate County employees with any notice of the alleged incidents of harassment before initiating her action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Accordingly, even if Magnusson had an otherwise viable hostile work environment claim, the County was protected from Title VII liability by successfully advancing such an affirmative defense.

Although there are instances where an employee’s failure to report sexual harassment can be excused if the employee has a credible fear of retaliation or believes that the complaint would be futile, based on the record the Circuit Court concluded that Magnusson's "conclusory assertions that she feared retaliation or that complaining would be futile fail as a matter of law to constitute sufficient evidence to establish that her fear was ‘credible.'"

Addressing Magnusson 's equal protection claim, the Circuit Court said it agreed with the district court that Magnusson "does not have a viable hostile work environment claim under §1983."

According to the Circuit Court's ruling, the incidents that Magnusson alleged in her complaint had occurred in 2003 and 2012. While presumably inappropriate incidents, the court observed that they had occurred nine years apart and the Magnusson failed to present evidence that these incidents unreasonably interfered with her job performance.

Accordingly, the Circuit Court ruled that Magnusson did not have a viable hostile work environment claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

* The court noted that Magnusson's Title VII sexual orientation harassment complaints were timely but that such allegations under §1983 were untimely.

The decision is posted on the Internet at"

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Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

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Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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