Hugging and kissing are not typically considered professional conduct in the business world (unless you’re from France) – but is it harassment? A recent federal case, Lozosky v. Keystone Business Products, Inc., provides support for that most sophisticated of legal defenses, “It’s not harassment, your Honor. It’s European.”
Patricia Lozosky was employed by Keystone Business Products, Inc. for two decades. During that time she would often be greeted by the male owner of the company with hugs and kisses, sometimes on the cheek and sometimes on the mouth. It appears she never objected. In December 2011, she was instructed to meet him at his home. When she arrived, the owner greeted her with a hug and kiss, and then sat down next to Ms. Lozosky. He then explained that he was concerned that Ms. Lozosky was an alcoholic and wanted her to attend rehabilitation. Ms. Lozosky refused. She was immediately demoted and then fired on January 6, 2012.
Ms. Lozosky filed a lawsuit claiming, among other things, sexual harassment based on the hugging and kissing by her boss. Unfortunately for her, the federal court disagreed. In dismissing her sexual harassment claims, the court stated, “Viewing the allegations with a view towards social context, a hug and kiss in greeting are not outside the scope of socially acceptable and non-abusive actions people take upon greeting a longtime friend or acquaintance.” The judge further noted that, “plaintiff’s allegations fail to indicate the greeting was designed as some prelude to unwelcome sexual activity[.]” According to the judge, Ms. Lozosky’s allegations just didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment under Title VII.
Still, it’s better to refrain from hugging and kissing in the workplace.