This one raised my eyebrows – definitely not your typical sexual harassment case.
In Waltz v. Dunning, the plaintiff began working for a company, BHC, in 2001. She reported directly to the CEO. They began a sexual relationship in 2003, which the plaintiff claimed was initially non-consensual (she said she only had sex with the CEO to avoid his becoming upset or physically abusive). However, she and the CEO began referring to each other as “husband and wife” (even though he was already married, the dog!), and had two children together, in 2005 and 2007. In 2008, the plaintiff resigned from BHC to work at another company, Synergy, which was also started by the CEO and had close ties to BHC. By 2009, the plaintiff was wearing a wedding ring that had been given to her by the CEO. They spent holidays together, went on family vacations, and took videos to commemorate special occasions. He joined in birthday and holiday celebrations with the plaintiff’s parents. He helped pay for the medical expenses of the plaintiff’s mother, who had cancer. He also bought the plaintiff and their children a home. The plaintiff sent him affectionate texts and emails, as well as cards, and bought him expensive gifts including a $7,000 watch (garnished with diamonds!).
In 2012, the plaintiff ended the relationship and quit her job at Synergy. The CEO filed for custody rights for their two children, and the plaintiff then sued him and his companies for sexual harassment and other state law tort claims, including invasion of privacy, and assault and battery.
The court, however, threw out her claims. In order for the plaintiff’s claims to be valid, the CEO’s conduct had to be “unwelcome.” As the court noted, although the conduct might have been unwelcome at the outset and for some time thereafter, the relationship clearly became consensual, when taking into consideration all of the circumstances described above and the fact that it lasted for ten years! The court also particularly marked the fact that the plaintiff filed suit only after the CEO sought custody of their children. (That was definitely some suspicious timing).
Sexual harassment? Clearly that’s hard to prove when the alleged harasser is the same person you called your “husband” for many years!