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Is Brazoria County liable for judge's sexual harassment?

In Harris County, Texas, and throughout the country, workers have the right to work in an environment free of sexual harassment. When sexual harassment does occur, it is often possible to hold the employer liable, even if the harassment came from a co-worker, customer or lower level supervisor rather than the actual employer. In fact, the employer can automatically be held liable when a supervisor is the harasser or when another party was a known harasser and the employer did nothing to correct the situation.

That latter situation has been alleged in a case in Brazoria County, Texas. A Brazoria County judge has been accused of subjecting employees to pornographic text messages and emails, and fondling, among other forms of sexual harassment. Juvenile Board judges and the county probation department were reportedly aware of the harassment but did nothing to stop it. In fact, the probation department has been accused of retaliating against the victims of sexual harassment.

The plaintiffs have attempted to hold the Juvenile Board and the county liable, and the Southern District of Texas previously dismissed the claims against the board.

The plaintiffs can, according to the court, hold the county liable for sexual harassment and retaliation if they can prove that either the district attorney or the Juvenile Board were acting as a policymaker that was responsible for the harmful activity.

While this particular case is still pending, a similar sexual harassment complaint filed against the same judge and Brazoria County has already went to trial. The county reached a settlement with three plaintiffs in that case and the jury ruled unanimously against the judge.

This case is quite complicated, but it is important to remember that when a company fails to respond to reports of sexual harassment, that company can generally be held liable for the employment law violation. This means that victims can obtain financial compensation for damages like lost wages and pain and suffering.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "County May Have to Pay for Texas Judge's Sex Scandal," Cameron Langford, Dec. 12, 2012

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