Can an employer be held liable for sexual misconduct at a private party that takes place after an employer-sponsored holiday party? A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case appears to say “yes” and thereby presents a new concern for employers considering employer-sponsored events.
In Phelps v. State, an employee sued her employer, the State of Tennessee, for sexual harassment and retaliation claims under the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA). The instances of alleged sexual harassment included serious sexual misconduct (including a sexual assault) at an after-party following a State-sponsored Halloween party. The court ruled that the State could be liable for these “after-party” events, even though they took place after hours and away from the place of employment.