N.J. High Court: Annoying Not Harassment

August 6, 2008

An annoying person isn’t necessarily a sexual harasser, according to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which earlier this week ruled two women who were students at the Princeton Theological Seminary cannot sue the school for harassment.

The high court ruled their case fell short of the proofs necessary to state a hostile work environment claim.

It upheld two lower court rulings that also dismissed the lawsuit.

The women claimed an alumnus in his late-60s who lived in seminary-owned housing harassed them with requests for dates in 1999 and 2000 and the seminary didn’t act to stop him.

But the high court decided the man’s conduct didn’t equate to sexual harassment.

“Although socially inapt and, no doubt, annoying, (his) conduct did not approach sexual harassment,” Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote in the ruling. “Persons who are socially tone deaf are not, by that characteristic, necessarily the equivalent of sexual harassers.”

The students said they took their complaints to school officials, who told them they had received past complaints about the man and sent him a letter barring him from attending anything but public events on campus.

When the students later told the school the man had violated that restriction, school officials sent the students a letter advising them that the school’s sexual harassment policy had no bearing on the man because he was a public tenant and wasn’t a member of the seminary community.

The school advised the students to seek relief from local police.

They filed their sexual harassment lawsuit in 2003.

“They cannot rely on the prospect of a money damages award from the Seminary to replace their own obligation to simply tell (the man) that they had no interest in him romantically or even as a casual acquaintance,” LaVecchia wrote.

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