In the County of Yolo, 100 hugs and a painfully awkward kiss aren’t sexual harassment #YOLO

What else is there to blog about after reading a federal court opinion about Yolo (You Only Live Once) and sexual harassment?

Geez. Last night, I could have peed plutonium while flaming monkeys sprang forth from my word hole, and I still would have blogged Yolo.

More on Yolo after the jump…

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Hey, yo! Before I get to Yolo, allow me to polish my crown. For, in case you hadn’t heard, I’m now the Chair of Dilworth Paxson‘s new #SocialMedia Practice Group, the awesomeness of which you may read about here. Go ahead. You may kiss the ring!

Anyway, back to County of Yolo, CA…

Victoria Zetwick was a former corrections officer in the County of Yolo’s Sheriff’s Department. She claimed that her former employer violated Title VII because she was sexually harassed over her 14 years of employment there.

What happened, you ask?

The Sheriff supposedly hugged her at least 100 times in “awkward, unsolicited, and unwelcome” encounters.

Some of the hugs were accompanied by a kiss on the cheek. And, on one occasion, the Sheriff gave her “a kiss half on the corner of the her lips and half on
her cheek.”

Finally, the plaintiff had enough and filed a Government Claim in February of 2012, after which the Sheriff never hugged or kissed her again.

100 hugs and — let’s face it folks — a really awkward sounding kiss, do not make a hostile work environment.

Because, according to the Court (in this opinion), apparently, hugging and kissing is commonplace at work — so common that the plaintiff, herself, partook:

Not only do courts consider hugs and kisses on the cheek to be within the realm of common workplace behavior, but the facts of this case indicate that this behavior was common in Plaintiff’s own workplace. For example, Plaintiff acknowledged that she was never the only person that Defendant Prieto hugged and that he never hugged her alone. Plaintiff herself admitted to hugging other deputies, corrections officers, and supervisors at
her work. In addition, Defendant Prieto’s hugs were not exclusively directed toward women. Defendants presented undisputed evidence that Defendant Prieto did hug male employees as well as women in the office.It is clear from these facts that Defendant Prieto’s hugs and kisses on the cheek fell within the definition of ordinary workplace socializing and do not fall within the purview of Title VII.

And, that kiss. Not enough to convince the court otherwise. It was in the presence of the plaintiff’s husband, while congratulating her on her
recent marriage.

So, am I going to promote huggy-kissy in my future respect-in-the-workplace trainings? 

Not unless I’m presenting at The Huggy-Kissy Company. And, even then, I’d hesitate. Call me hella-old fashioned, I’m just not ready to liken little hugs and kisses in the workplace to handshakes and fist bumps. For, while hugs and kisses may not offend most, they offend some. 

In which case, YOLO is not a good defense.

  • Jennifer Corso

    I agree with the court on this one. A hug in and of itself certainly isn’t sexual harassment, nor should it be. From the description given it sounds like the Sheriff was a hugger – hugging both men and women – again defeating any inference the plaintiff was singled out because of her sex. 100 hugs over 14 years is less than one hug a month, so it wouldn’t meet the pervasive standard. And as for the “kiss”, who hasn’t been on the receiving end of a kiss on the cheek gone wrong? Move your head an inch at the wrong time and oops! If that happened every time, I would see the plaintiff’s point, but once in 14 years doesn’t make good evidence for a sexual harassment case.

    Now, would I advise any of my business clients to go around hugging employees and kissing them on the cheek? Definitely not a good business practice. But I think this was one lawsuit that should not have been filed in the first place.