January 1995

Workplace Labor Update - Alleged Harasser Cannot Claim Sex Discrimination – January 1995

2 min

The federal appellate court with jurisdiction over Maryland, Virginia and other mid-Atlantic states recently ruled that a male employee who was allegedly falsely accused of sexually harassing his female co- workers could not claim that he had been subject to sex discrimination. Balazs v. Liebenthal, 32 F.3d 151 (4th Cir. 1994).

During a skit at a company picnic, Balazs, a twenty-two-year supervisor with American Telephone and Telegraph Company (“AT& T”), presented a “silver rocket award” to a female employee for fast typing and clerical skills. Two women managers, attending the picnic, alleged that the “rocket” resembled the male anatomy. These managers claimed that they were offended, insisted that they were victims of sexual harassment and demanded that Balazs be punished.

Based upon this accusation of sexual harassment and the ensuing investigation, Balazs filed a lawsuit against AT& T, claiming that he had been discriminated against on account of his sex and retaliated against for complaining about this false sexual harassment and for filing charges with the EEOC.

In its motion to dismiss, AT& T argued that Balazs failed to state a claim of sex discrimination because he did not claim that he was treated differently because of his sex. The trial court agreed and on appeal the Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that Balazs’ complaint was “devoid of any allegation that [he] was discriminated against because of his sex.” As explained by the court, “[a]n allegation that he was falsely accused of conduct which, if true, might have given rise to a claim of employment discrimination based on sex by someone else in no way states a cause of action that plaintiff himself was a victim of discrimination.” Likewise, the court concluded that Balazs’ retaliation claim which arose out of the same non-covered conduct was also unsupported.

This decision reaffirms that employers can investigate and punish individuals accused of sexual harassment without fear of being subject to a discrimination claim from the alleged harasser so long as the investigation itself is carried out in a non-discriminatory manner.