When a current or former employee raises allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace, the news can be very damaging to a company, whether the allegations are true or not. Sexual harassment allegations can not only affect the reputation of a company but can also disrupt the working environment.
For these reasons, it's crucial that employers handle claims of sexual harassment appropriately and effectively from the onset, which often requires assistance from an experienced employment law attorney. A seasoned employment law attorney can take the reins as the company deals with the allegations and helps to restore a productive working environment.
In many situations, employment law attorneys may think it wise to attempt to dissolve the situation, especially if the allegations were false. However, an incident at Yahoo Inc. recently made headlines because the company's lawyers advised doing the exact opposite.
The situation began after Yahoo purchased a Seattle startup in February 2013 and the startup's five employees were transferred to Yahoo's California office. The founder of the startup, who is now Yahoo's senior director of engineering, and a former software engineer were made roommates in Yahoo-owned housing.
This is where the stories begin to part. The former software engineer alleges that while the two women were living together, the Yahoo executive forced her into a sexual relationship by threatening her job and future. The software engineer filed a sexual harassment claim last month.
Less than a week later, Yahoo lawyers responded with a countersuit on behalf of the Yahoo executive. The countersuit accuses the former software engineer of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress and maintains that the harassment claims were entirely fabricated.
Legal experts say that Yahoo's aggressive response to the harassment claims is extremely rare and risky.
They say the move is likely resulting from one of three situations: either Yahoo believes that the claims are false and is sticking up for the executive; Yahoo is trying to bully the former software engineer into dropping the claims; or Yahoo is trying to spin negative publicity. Only time will tell which scenario is correct.
Source: The Recorder, "Yahoo Fights Fire With Fire in Sexual Harassment Case," Marisa Kendall, Aug. 22, 2014