Court Declines To Review Limits On Sexual Harassment Claims

Monday, March 19th 2007, 9:37 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court declined Monday to use a sexual harassment claim from a 16-year-old ice cream scooper to decide whether an underage employee must show that her co-worker's attention was unwelcome.

The case stemmed from a sexual encounter between a teenager and a 25-year-old co-worker that Illinois law defines as statutory rape.

The teenager, identified only as Jane Doe in court papers, and her shift supervisor, Matthew Nayman, worked at an Oberweis Dairy store in Illinois. The company has 43 ice cream stores in four Midwestern states.

Nayman was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor. There was no allegation of forcible rape, the company said, because the teenager went to Nayman's apartment, disobeying her mother's instructions not to socialize with him.

The 16-year-old then filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that she was subjected to inappropriate sexual advances.

A trial judge rejected the claim in part because he found that the girl ``welcomed'' Nayman's behavior. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, said her views of Nayman's conduct were irrelevant because she is a minor. Her lawsuit against Oberweis could proceed, the appeals court said.

The question is important in civil rights lawsuits because the Supreme Court has said that employees must show that conduct is unwelcome to prove harassment claims. A court ruling in Jane Doe's favor would give teenagers greater workplace protection from harassment.

The trial judge also cited the refusal in his ruling against the teenager.

The case is Oberweis Dairy v. Jane Doe, 06-767...Jane Doe v. Oberweis Dairy, 06-735.