Summary of Facts
After four years as a police officer in the Saint Leo Police Department (SLPD), Officer Rowdy is reported to the Sheriff by a civilian for having been engaged with her male counterparts in telling sexually explicit jokes. Prior to this, the officer has had to endure repeated instances of verbal abuse which she associates with her Jewish religion. The basis for the reported explicit talk is described as a form of retaliation to the discriminatory jokes made by others concerning her religion and the fact that she feared being shunned by others if she did not appear to be in unity with them. In addition to this, officer Rowdy had undergone what can be described as sexual harassment from her supervisor who had suggested that he could help her get promoted on condition that she offered certain sexual favors to the supervisor.
The Sheriff, having received the civilian’s complaints and cross examined Officer Rowdy, reports that the officer had an upcoming promotion consideration. However, the complaint puts her in a precarious situation with respect to awarding the promotion. The Sheriff is therefore at a loss of ideas in that she is unable to decide how to proceed with the case. The questions asked include whether Officer Rowdy should be passed over for the promotion, whether she should be punished based on the reports of the civilians, and whether her arguments were true. At the same time, the Sheriff desires to know what the implications of any potential actions against the officer would be. It is on these aspects that the Sheriff needs professional advice on administrative liabilities. There are ethical as well as legal issues of concern in the case.
Based on the issues presented by the Sheriff, there are various key legal issues that are prevalent. The first is the subject of employer liability. In the case of Officer Rowdy, the supervisor requested for sexual favors in order to help in achieving a promotion to the criminal investigations. The question is whether the Sheriff can be held liable for the supervisor’s actions. This amounts to a case of respondeat superior in case pursued. Another issue that may present is that of religious discrimination. Based on the arguments made by Officer Rowdy, she has had to endure repeated instances of verbal abuse from her fellow officers, potentially as a result of her religion. The sheriff wants to know whether refusal of promotion due to the reported incidence can amount to liability and also whether punishing officer Rowdy would be legally acceptable.
Arguments Passed by Each Side
In the outlined scenario, there are potentially two sides to the case. In both cases, the Sheriff would be considered the defendant while Officer Rowdy would be the complainant. In the first case on vicarious liability, the plaintiff, Officer Rowdy would hold the sheriff accountable for the actions of the superior. To give strength to her claims, Officer Rowdy could argue that the Sheriff, being a superior in the place of work, should have been held responsible for the actions of the subordinate. Alternatively, Officer Rowdy could also argue that the Sheriff had engaged in negligent hiring, training and retaining of an employee. The Sheriff on the other hand, could argue that any tort violations committed by the supervisor out of the work place and which are non- work related should not be considered as the effects of the superior’s failure. She could argue that she had no duty, right or ability to control how each of the officers spent their spare time. Apart from Officer Rowdy, the civilian may also accuse the Sherriff of vicarious liability based on the conducts of her officers as highlighted by the civilian. From the third party’s arguments, it can be said that the sheriff should be aware of the behaviors of her people and thus control those conducts where applicable. To this, the same argument on inability to control use of spare time also applies.
In the second case, Officer Rowdy, being the plaintiff, could argue that under the conditions preceding the reported events, any punishment accorded to her would be unfair if the other perpetrators were left free. This is because both the civilian and the accused officer report that the other officers were also engaging in sexually explicit talks and that her use of derogatory comments was in retaliation to the harassment by the supervisor. Similarly, she could argue that any form of punishment was discriminatory since it snatched her chance to be promoted. She could base this argument on the fact that the accusation did not involve job performance and thus the superior had no ability, duty or right to control the actions of the employee outside the work place.
According to Thornton (2010), the concept of vicarious liability (respondeat superior) applies to a situation whereby a superior or a third party is held liable for the acts of another. In the case of a superior and a subordinate, the subject of respondeat superior may be applied in the case of the Sheriff and Officer Rowdy. The law suggests that any third party who has the duty or ability to control activities of another may be held liable for that person’s actions. In order to confirm the presence of vicarious liability in any case, it has to be established that the superior had control over the actions of the subordinate. To do this, the wrong committed should have been done in the course of duty. In the case at hand, the wrong committed cannot be linked to the professional duty of the supervisor. However, when a subordinate engages in an act that goes contrary to professional qualifications or contrary to work place ethics, the superior can be held liable for negligent hiring, training and retention practices.
The Sheriff may be liable under this provision. Consideration of reasonable hiring, retention, supervision and training is taken to be irrelevant to respondeat superior. As such, with or without confirmation of respondeat superior, the actions of a subordinate or a third party could be blamed on negligent hiring practices of the superior. In applying this law however, it has to be confirmed that the action that results in harm or injury, or the reported event could have been foreseen based on the personality traits of the employee. In this case, the Sheriff could be liable on this account in case the supervisor showed propensity for sexual harassment before it actually happened. Similarly, the Sheriff could also be held vicariously liable only if all the officers and particularly Officer Rowdy showed propensity for sexually explicit talk and public annoyance.
In the second case involving potential for liability on religious harassment, the Sheriff could be held accountable for religious harassment on various accounts. According to Avery, religious harassment is a prohibited concept in law. The law prohibits religious discrimination in the work place in various accounts. Practices such as hiring, layoffs, promotions and training should be carried out without consideration of religious beliefs. Any practices that border on religious discrimination should be avoided and punished by law. In the case of Officer Rowdy, confirmation of a case of religious discrimination may be based on the existence of offensive remarks concerning one’s religious affiliation. Moreover, religious harassment can only be invoked in a case where there has to be no inquiry into whether an individual is practicing an active religion or not. Officer Rowdy has been actively practicing Jewish Religious traditions such as keeping off work on religious days hence there would be no need to confirm her religious beliefs. Apart from this, religious harassment can only be cited in cases where frequent and serious abuse occurs. Isolated cases of religious discrimination and/ or harassment are not considered to be equivalent to abuse and not punishable by law. An example of a case in which isolation was considered to be synonymous to lack of evidence for religious discrimination was the case of Fairclough v. Board of County Commoners (2003) in which the court decided that a onetime derogatory comment from a supervisor on religious grounds did not constitute religious harassment. As such, the court argued that the defendant had no case of religious discrimination to answer.
Further proof of religious discrimination and harassment could only be based on adverse impacts resulting from the actions of the Sheriff (Friedman 2008). For instance, the subject of lost promotion opportunity as a result of reported conducts could be connected to religious discrimination. From the position of the Sheriff, taking an action that would punish the offender while also reducing chances for promotion should only be done after considering all the perspectives of the story. The argument on this could also be on the basis of vicarious liability for the comments made by the supervisor. The case of Bernstein v Sephora could be cited in this argument in that the proof of discriminatory aversion of promotion was based on clear cut derogatory religious statements.
Based on the arguments presented by the Sheriff and the applicable law, it is recommended that the Sheriff should not take specific disciplinary action against Officer Rowdy. Such action may result in more implications than expected. As for the past occurrences of religious harassment by other members of the team, the Sheriff should let them be. However, Officer Rowdy as well as all other officers should be cautioned about the importance of religious tolerance, the injustice of sexual harassment and the need to uphold one’s dignity through reporting any such occurrences to the relevant authorities or to the superiors. In this way, the Sheriff will be able to avoid any complaints concerning religious discrimination as well as on vicarious liability. At the same time, the sheriff will also be able to develop a work place culture that does not support any form of discrimination or harassment.
Reasons for Recommendation
As pertains to the questions asked by the Sheriff, the cited recommendations would be most relevant due to various reasons. First, there are no reports about previous harassment on religious grounds. It would thus be unwise to dig up unnecessary cases where there are no formal reports on the same. In addition to this, punishing Officer Rowdy after her explanations would amount to discrimination as the supervisor had also wronged her prior to the reported explicit talks. The civilian had also made discriminatory reports since he focused on the female officer yet also agreed that she was engaging with her male colleagues. Punishing only Officer Rowdy would thus indicate support for the supervisor’s behaviors as well as the abusive culture in the work station. Failing to caution any of the officers will also result in the advancement of the harassment culture in SLPD yet this should be put to an end. Punishing Officer Rowdy may also result in her withdrawal from the others as she has clearly indicated that her participation in the boys’ talks only helps her to cope with the challenges she faces among them. The actions of the Sheriff should therefore be such that Officer Rowdy does not feel discriminated while the others do not continue engaging in their negative behaviors.
Various core values are highlighted by Saint Leo which can be applied to this case. First, the value of justice is advocated for by the university community. Justice in this case can be connected to avoidance of unreasonable punishment. Integrity, equality and dignity are also upheld in the case. Integrity can be applied in the course of duty performance through prevention of behaviors that go contrary to professional code of ethics. Equality on the other hand alludes to avoidance of discrimination in all aspects while dignity refers to upholding of personal and professional values.
Avery, I.T. (2014). Legal issues in criminal justice administration, custom 2nd Ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Bernstein v Sephora Djv of DFS Group. 182F. Supp. 2d 1214 (S.D Fla 2002).
Casey, J. and D’Aquino, A. (n.d). State of New York Transportation Compendium of Law. US Law Network, Inc.
Fairclough v Board of County Commoners 244F. Supp. 2d. 581 (D. Md. 2003).
Friedman, R.(2008). Religious Discrimination in the workplace: the persistent polarized struggle. MidWest Black law students Association Law Journal
Ghumman, S., Ryan, A.M., Barclay, L. and Markel, K.(2013). Religious Discrimination in the Workplace: A Review and Examination of Current and Future Trends. Journal of Business and Psychology, 28(4).
Thornton, R.(2010). Responsibility for the Acts of others. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 23(3), 313-315.
 In most cases a direct expression of the religion as a rationale for avoiding promotion is required (Friedman 2008)
 Respondeat Superior is distinct from vicarious liability. The former refers to a situation where a superior subordinate relationship exists. Vicarious liability can be where there is no such relationship such as the liability held by a parent for the actions of the children
 Casey & D’Aquino (n.d) – The superior cannot use a given unprecedented behavior as a basis for avoiding hiring. As such, the behavior should be foreseeable beyond reasonable doubt
 Ghumman, S., Ryan, A.M., Barclay, L. and Markel, K.(2013). Religious Discrimination in the Workplace: A Review and Examination of Current and Future Trends. Journal of Business and Psychology, 28(4).
 The absence of proof that such frequent and serious harassment occurred implies that the offence is un-punishable by law. For instance, Officer Rowdy should have reported before of the repeated harassment.
 Bernstein v Sephora Djv of DFS Group. 182F. Supp. 2d 1214 (S.D Fla 2002).
 This means it will there will only be proof of an isolated case of religious harassment