The Storage Room Massage: A Case of Sexual Harassment?


Standard Valve & Gauge Company manufactures safety relief valves, pressure gauges, thermometers, testing instruments, and spring disks. The company has three small plants scattered throughout the Southeast. Each plant employs approximately 325 workers. Personnel operations are generally centralized at corporate headquarters located in Atlanta, Georgia. However, the plant superintendent of each plant is largely responsible for the day-to-day administration of personnel policies.


Bill Winthrop, a Shift Supervisor at the Marshfield plant, had been employed with the company for about six years. On June 11,1991, Winthrop was terminated by the Plant Superintendent, Jim Hudson, for sexual harassment of a female employee, Mary Harper Jones, on June 9 (see Exhibit 1.9). Jones was employed as a laborer in the Marshfield plant and accused Winthrop of unwanted sexual advances (see Exhibit 1.10).


A few months after Winthrop was terminated, the company received a Notice of Charge of Discrimination from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), filed by Winthrop alleging that he had been sexually harassed by Jones on three occasions and that her actions unreasonably interfered with his work performance and created a negative work atmosphere. He further alleged that the company failed to take action on his complaints about Ms. Jones and that he had been unduly discharged (see Exhibit 1.11).


In its reply to the EEOC, the company maintained that Winthrop was terminated for sexual harassment and not on the basis of his race, sex, or any other manner of retaliation. The company also pointed out that after his termination on June 11, Winthrop had applied for unemployment compensation and the Employment Security Commission office hearing his appeal agreed that Winthrop was terminated for just cause. Consequently, Winthrop was disqualified for unemployment benefits for a period of nine weeks. The commission's report stated, "Winthrop displayed poor judgment in requesting the 'massage’ and the employer's discharge of the claimant was for good business reasons to avoid instances of like nature in the future.” The company argued that his sexual harassment charges were unsubstantiated and should be dismissed (see Exhibit 1.12). Two weeks after forwarding the letter in Exhibit 1.12 to the EEOC, the Human Resource Director, J. Bevins, received a letter back from the EEOC (Exhibit 1.13) requesting additional information about the charges.























(Applications in Human Resource Management, 4th edition, Nkomo, Fottler, & McAfee, South-Western, 2000, pp. 25-31)