SHERRIFF’S HUGGING CAN BE SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Victoria Zetwick is a correctional officer with Yolo County, California. In 1999 Edward Prieto was selected as the county sheriff, and introduced himself to the correctional staff and hugged all of the female officers, Zetwick included. Zetwick contends that from 1999-2012, Prieto subjected her to more than one hundred unwelcomed hugs, and at least one unwelcomed kiss. Zetwick claims that the kiss occurred at an awards ceremony and that the kiss landed on her lips as she turned her head. Zetwick stated that she expressed her shock at this incident to co-workers and her family. She states that her co-workers teased her that Prieto was going to kiss her again. She contends that her workplace changed and that she found it difficult to concentrate, due to stress and anxiety from Prieto’s conduct. The County contends that all of the hugs took place at events and never when Zetwick and Prieto were alone.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Zetwick had submitted enough evidence to warrant a trial on the question of sexually harassing hostile work environment. To be actionable under Title VII, a sexually objectionable environment must be both objectively and subjectively offensive. The Court noted that a reasonable juror could look to Zetwick’s testimony to find that Prieto’s conduct was sufficiently severe enough to alter the conditions of her employment. The Court stated that while Prieto’s hugs were common in the work place and occurred across gender lines, a reasonable juror could find that the frequency of hugging created a hostile work environment. Lastly, the Court noted the importance of the supervisor-employee relationship that existed between Zetwick and Prieto, and how that dynamic lends to the hostile work environment.
Zetwick v. County of Yolo, 2017 WL 710476 (9th Cir. 2017)