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First Circuit rules against University of Puerto Rico in sexual harassment case

The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in addition to Maine and other New England states, has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, ruled today that a reasonable jury could determine that the University of Puerto Rico unlawfully subjected a former employee to sexual harassment. The former employee, Dr. Melissa Gerald, alleged that her supervisor, Dr. Edmundo Kraiselburd, sexually harassed her.

Gerald and Kraiselburd engaged in a week-long sexual affair in 2005 which Gerald ended soon after it began. According to Gerald, Kraiselburd tried to pursue another sexual relationship with her years later and, when she continued to rebuff him, he acted vindictively toward her. Some of his harassment included: grabbing her breasts; sexually propositioning her; and crassly asking in front of co-workers why she would not have sex with him. Gerald also maintains that Kraiselburd used his authority to demote her because she refused to have sex with him. The University argued that it demoted Gerald because of poor performance but Gerald presented documentary evidence to prove that she was performing well right up until the point when she rebuffed Kraiselburd’s sexual advances.

Despite this evidence, the trial court in Puerto Rico found that no reasonable person could believe that Gerald suffered sexual harassment that was severe enough to adversely affect her employment. While this may seem outrageous, it is not uncommon for trial courts to overstep their authority and prevent juries from deciding whether an employer broke the law. In this case, the First Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and sent the case back to Puerto Rico for a trial.

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights. As this case illustrates, even seemingly straightforward sexual harassment cases can be an uphill battle in court.