A Chicago news source reports on a former doorman for Sidetrack, a popular bar in Chicago, suing the bar and a couple of its managers for sexual and religious harassment. Sexual harassment lawsuits at bars, sadly, are not uncommon or generally newsworthy unless they contain an interesting twist. In this case, the bar is a gay bar, owned by gay rights pioneers in Boystown, which may have been the first official gay village in the United States, and focuses heavily on text messages.
Joseph Parker claims that he received unwelcome texts from one of the bar’s managers. The messages, he claims, were sexually explicit and contained images of leather fetish wear, requests for him to dance or invitations for late night calls and to a “playroom.” Parker also claims that another manager, with whom he was briefly involved, made sexual advances and forced sex acts on him. Furthermore, the news source states that Parker claims the employees harassed him for being a “conservative Christian gay man.”
In response to the lawsuit’s claims, Sidetrack’s attorneys point out that when the initial complaint was made to the bar’s owners, there was an investigation. The investigation looked into the “harassing” text messages and no evidence of harassment was found. In fact, the text messages, for the most part, were easily explained. For instance, the texts requesting Parker to dance were sent while Parker was working at the bar and the leather fetish wear images were no more sexually suggestive than some of the outfits some employees wear during the various bar events. In context the texts, which do appear to be sexually explicit, begin to look less like harassment and more like comments and suggestions about business for a long running, popular a gay bar. That said, the lawsuit has not been dismissed and the further evidence could make the case more clear-cut.
Harassment in the Workplace
Harassment can take many forms. Some types of harassment are considered less offensive than other types, like picking on a co-worker who is a fan of rival or “horrible” sports team. Harassment, the threatening of bodily harm or the malicious intent to inflict physical or mental harm, is a criminal offense in Washington. Picking on a person for their sports team likely does not reach criminal levels, nor does it trigger any employment laws. But, harassment of any kind can affect employee work performance, create hostile work environments, and negatively affect business. However, when the harassment is based on a protected class an employer has a legal obligation to investigate and stop the harassment. Harassment, if allowed to continue, can be strong evidence of discrimination in the workplace.
It is sometimes difficult to prove a person’s intent when they send a text or make a comment or act. And sometimes it is necessary to look at a lot of smaller actions over time for it to become clearer. But if you believe you have suffered from harassment in the workplace, contacting a Washington employment law attorney can help.