Texas Expands Employer—and Individual—Liability for Sexual Harassment Claims
Effective September 1, 2021, new provisions in the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”) provide greater protections and remedies for employees alleging sexual harassment. Key changes include the following:
- The new provisions set a heightened standard for an employer’s response to a sexual harassment complaint. An employer now “commits an unlawful employment practice if sexual harassment of an employee occurs and the employer or the employer’s agents or supervisors: (1) know or should have known that the conduct constituting sexual harassment was occurring; and (2) fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.” This language somewhat (but not exactly) mirrors the Title VII analysis for coworker harassment claims, which considers whether the employer took “prompt” and effective remedial action. The amendments to the TCHRA do not define what amounts to “immediate and appropriate corrective action,” or to what degree “prompt” differs from “immediate,” and this is likely to be a disputed and litigated issue in Texas courts. Additionally, this new standard of proof does not differentiate between coworker and supervisor harassment claims—another potentially significant departure from Title VII, which generally holds employers liable for supervisor harassment unless they are able to establish an affirmative defense.
- Unlike the remainder of the TCHRA, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, the new sexual harassment provisions essentially cover all employers (anyone who “employs one or more employees”) and further opens the door to potential individual liability for managers, coworkers, or HR (someone who “acts directly in an interests of the employer in relation to an employee”). As a result, Texas plaintiffs may begin naming supervisors, HR professionals, and other involved employees as defendants in sexual harassment lawsuits—and those individuals may be held personally liable for damages if the plaintiff is successful.
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