Legal background

In making its decision, the court looked at the two main claims involved in this case: sexual harassment, and whether Ms F’s PTSD constituted a disability that would require a reasonable accommodation (such as Ms F’s request for a transfer). 

The court agreed with the VA facility that it had properly responded (legally) to the report of sexual harassment made by Ms F. “The hospital did not know about the harassment until the nurse reported it,” wrote the court in its decision. “Once she reported it, the hospital fulfilled all its legal duties as to sexual harassment.”

Law enforcement was immediately notified of the situation, an investigation was begun, Mr G was suspended and moved to another facility, and Ms F was given leave. The court could not fault the facility for its handling of a situation that it was not aware of. Therefore, the court dismissed that part of the lawsuit, holding that the VA had satisfied its legal duties to Ms F.

However, the court upheld Ms F’s right to sue for disability discrimination. Ms F notified her employer about her disability, provided a physician’s diagnosis confirming that she had PTSD, and requested a reasonable accommodation (being moved to a different area of the hospital or to another facility). The federal regulations specifically mention PTSD as a disability. Thus, the court agreed that Ms F could pursue that claim, and the case has been remanded for a future trial.

Protecting yourself

As the court pointed out, the hospital was unaware of the situation until Ms F reported it. The facility could not be expected to do something about a situation of which it was unaware. 

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Unfortunately, harassment in the workplace happens. And with greater frequency than we would wish. If you find yourself in that position, you must report it—not just for your own sake, but for the sake of your other coworkers who may also be harassed by that person at some point. Reporting it is the only way to get any legal and practical protection from the harasser. Had the hospital not immediately reacted to Ms F’s report, she would have had a claim against it. However, the hospital acted appropriately and immediately took action once notified. It is the “once notified” that is the issue.  

If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being harassed at work, notify your supervisor or your HR department. 

Ms Latner, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, NY.