Will Supreme Court Expand Sexual Harassment Claims?

© 2004 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Spring 2004
Author: Naomi Angel
Page 72


Current Hot Issues

By Naomi R. Angel, DASMA Legal Counsel

Will Supreme Court Expand Sexual Harassment Claims?

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether to expand an employer's liability for on-the-job sexual harassment.

The current law says that a harassed employee's claim requires a “tangible employment action” such as a demotion, termination, or denial of a promotion. In the new case heard by the Court, an employee claimed she was continually sexually harassed until she finally felt compelled to quit after five months on the job.

The employee, a dispatcher with the Pennsylvania State Police, did not avail herself of her employer's anti-harassment policies and procedures, and did not ask for help until two days before she quit.

Companies should avoid this situation by having well documented and publicized anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Periodically remind all employees of these policies. Preparing or publicizing such policies after a claim is made is very likely to be too little and too late.

Parking Lot Fall: A Worker's Comp Claim?

A restaurant employee reported to work about 7:00 a.m. Overnight, snow and ice had accumulated in the parking lot. As she exited her car, she slipped and fell, injuring her back and head.

She initially requested worker's compensation benefits, but her request was rejected. The Industrial Commission said the snow and ice accumulation was a natural hazard to which the general public was exposed.

She appealed, and the trial court and appellate court upheld her appeal and awarded benefits. The court said the employer was liable because it directed employees to park at the rear of the lot. Thus, the employer was exercising control over its employees' use of the parking lot. However, the court also said that “natural accumulation of snow and ice” was a negligence concept that did not apply to worker's compensation issues.

Many door companies provide parking for employees. Lots owned or controlled by the business are considered an extension of the employer's premises. Consequently, injuries there are compensable. If your lot is owned and controlled by a third party, it is less clear whether the lot should be regarded as an extension of your premises. In such a case, the circumstances are more likely to determine the outcome of a compensation claim. It helps to be aware of the distinctions.

California and Product Registration Cards

In California, effective Jan. 1, 2004, product registration cards/documents can no longer be labeled a warranty registration or warranty confirmation. Reason: Such labeling erroneously may mislead consumers into believing that if they do not return the card or form, they have no warranty rights.

Instead, the product registration document must contain clear and conspicuous statements that inform the consumer that:
(1) The card or form is for product registration purposes; and
(2) Failure to complete and return the card or form does not diminish the consumer's warranty rights.

Companies should be aware of the warranty laws in each state in which they do business. They should establish a warranty registration system as part of their records system, and pay particular attention to the product registration documents the consumer receives.

Who Owns Your Name?

Is a disgruntled customer buying your domain name?

In one recent federal case, a consumer had an unhappy experience with a business. She then registered that business's name as a domain name and used her new Web site to tell the world about her bad experience.

The business, which had not trademarked its name, sued her under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). A federal appellate court decided on behalf of the consumer.

The appellate court said a violation of the ACPA required that the defendant acted in bad faith, based on an 8-factor test. The Web site's name was the same as the business name; that initially indicated bad faith.

However, the consumer did not benefit commercially from use of the domain name, did not divert consumers away from the business by confusion, and did not offer to sell the domain name to the business. Thus, the court ultimately found the requisite bad faith was missing.

The lesson here may be to trademark your business name and register your business name as a .com, .net, and .info to limit attempts by others to use the name for good or bad reasons.