Unwanted hugging may be sexual harassment

According to the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals, excessive hugging may be determined to be sexual harassment. In February 2017, a three-judge panel overturned a 2014 case against Yolo County Sheriff Edward G. Prieto, who allegedly hugged a female officer over 100 times between 1998 and 2012.

The lawsuit was filed by Victoria Zetwick, a correctional officer in Yolo County. In the suit, Zetwick stated that she witnessed Prieto hugging and kissing many other female employees in addition to herself, which created a hostile work environment. His hugs, she claimed, had sexual undertones.

Additionally, she stated that Prieto’s behavior made it difficult for her to concentrate at work, made her constantly stressed and anxious. Because of this, she had to take medications for sleep.

Prieto’s attorney argued that his client’s actions were platonic, brief and nothing more than casual greetings. He also argued that Prieto hugged both men and women. Should he happen to embrace women more than men, he only did so due to “genuine but innocuous differences in the ways men and women routinely interact with members of the same sex and the opposite sex.”

However, the 9th District Court disagreed, stating that a reasonable juror could determine that embracing and kissing on the cheek by a supervisor could create a hostile or abusive work environment if the touching is unwanted and pervasive. In February 2017, the court overturned the case, which had been dismissed and closed in November 2014 by a federal judge in Sacramento.

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work or sexual harassed, you should contact an experienced employment attorney at Strong Advocates. We can assist you in determining your rights and legal options. We are committed to helping you get the justice you deserve.