New York, NY (Law Firm Newswire) June 22, 2018 – This past Saturday, AMC suspended TV host Chris Hardwick over allegations he sexually and emotionally abused his ex-girlfriend and co-worker Chloe Dykstra. In addition to being morally the right thing to do, it is legally wise.
Federal, New York State, and New York City all have laws that prohibit sexual harassment: Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. The burden of establishing a claim under each differs. Under New York City law, someone must show only that they were treated less well than others because of his or her gender. The standard is higher under Federal and New York law: the employee must show the harassment was “severe” or “pervasive,” which generally means the conduct altered the conditions of the victim’s employment.
AMC suspending Chris Hardwick does not alter that legal framework but it does have an effect on whether AMC will be liable for his conduct. Under federal and New York law, an employer is liable for an actionable hostile work environment a supervisor created over the employee. But – there is always a “but” in law – an employer can escape its liability if it used reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior. Likely recognizing this and on the advice of counsel, AMC suspended Hardwick to prevent him from harassing others. Had the network not suspended him after these allegations and he subsequently harassed others, the network would face serious liability and could not avail itself of this defense.
Importantly, employers do not have this defense under the New York City Human Rights Law. An employer is strictly liable if the offending employee exercised managerial or supervisory authority over the harassed employee.
The Chris Hardwick case is likely only beginning. More developments will certainly come. AMC has, in the interim, done the morally and legally right thing by suspending Hardwick.
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe, LLP, an employment law firm in New York City that deals extensively with sexual harassment claims.