Godfrey v. Princeton Theological Seminary, 2008 WL 2951891 (N.J. Sup. Ct., August 4, 2008) – Despite the spate of recent pro-employee hostile work environment cases, the Supreme Court issued an antidote in Godfrey, holding that the plaintiffs, two female seminary students, were not subject to a hostile environment when a 60-year old seminary resident pursued them in quest of a date, where his behavior involved no sexual language, touching, or inappropriate comments or suggestions.
The Court observed: “Persons who are socially tone deaf are not, by that characteristic, necessarily the equivalent of sexual harassers. It is important in that regard that neither of these women used her own authority to tell Miller to ‘go away.’ They cannot rely on the prospect of a money damages award from the Seminary to replace their own obligation to simply tell Miller that they had no interest in him romantically or even as a casual acquaintance.”
This case reaffirms the burden plaintiffs must carry to prevail on a claim for sexual harassment, and demonstrates that employees bear some responsibility for managing social interaction with people who, though socially inept, are not sexual harassers.
Note: This article appeared in the September 2008 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority.