HR Strange But True!
July 26, 2007

Todd Bernier thought that co-worker Christopher Davis gave "an overt, purposeful, and glaring look" at Bernier's penis when they were both standing at the urinals in the men's bathroom at work. Thinking he was a victim of harassment, Bernier decided to do something: Send an anonymous message to Davis that said, in part, "stop staring." Who do you think was ultimately fired?

Bernier knew Davis was gay and claimed that Davis had stared at him in the hallway at work. Bernier assumed that Davis was sexually interested in him because other gay men that Bernier knows do not stare at him. What Bernier didn't know was that Davis wasn't staring at him--he had a lazy eye that made him look as though he was looking in other directions; it often looked as though he was staring.

After Bernier thought he had noticed Davis staring at him in the men's bathroom, he sent Davis an anonymous message using a rarely used internal messaging system. The message read: "Stop staring! The guys on the floor don't like it." Davis was shocked by both the content and the delivery method of the message and, thinking it reflected animus towards his sexual orientation, took up a harassment claim with the HR department.

After the company traced the message back to Bernier's computer, HR confronted Bernier, who initially denied sending the message. The company decided to terminate Bernier, which is when he admitted sending the message and told the company why he had sent it. After his termination, Bernier went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed suit.

Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that because Bernier failed to report the alleged harassment to the company, and then lied to the company during its investigation of the anonymous message to Davis, there was no basis for employer liability on his sexual harassment claim. Davis, on the other hand, had gone to HR to file his claim properly, in accordance with the company's policy, the court noted.

Source: The U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit

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