Must you give an “embarrassed” employee a transfer?

Emma Goldsmith was finding it increasingly uncomfortable to work in the maintenance department. Her discomfort stemmed from unwanted sexual advances made by Assistant Maintenance Supervisor Harry Force a few months back.
By Raymond Dreyfack June 1, 1998

Emma Goldsmith was finding it increasingly uncomfortable to work in the maintenance department. Her discomfort stemmed from unwanted sexual advances made by Assistant Maintenance Supervisor Harry Force a few months back. Force persisted for a while, then finally gave up. There was no significant change in Goldsmith’s clerical duties or the way she was treated, but she found her continuing contacts with Force “somewhat embarrassing.”

Her embarrassment increased sharply, she claimed, after it became widely known that Force was having an affair with Mary Graybar, Emma’s close friend and coworker.

Goldsmith complained to Force’s boss, Maintenance Supervisor Fred Stone, and requested a transfer.

“Everyone’s gossiping about the affair,” she told Stone, “The rumors are flying like lint in a windstorm. Since I’m a close friend of Mary’s, people are including me as part of that crowd.”

“That crowd” referred to Graybar, Force, and a small group of employees who were known to socialize together.

Stone asked, “Is Harry giving you a hard time on the job because of this business? Is your work being hampered in any way?”

“No, but it’s uncomfortable working in such a hostile environment.”

Stone frowned and said reluctantly, “I’ll check it out. If a transfer is possible, I’ll see if I can swing it.”

Goldsmith thanked him. Two days later, Stone informed her that no openings existed anywhere else in the plant. “I’m sorry,” he said, “that’s the best I can do.”

He advised her to ignore the rumors and gossip. Still dissatisfied, Goldsmith threatened a grievance unless she was given the transfer.

Question : Under the circumstances, is the company obligated to grant her request?

Sheerer’s decision: When Stone informed Plant Engineer Arthur Sheerer of Goldsmith’s threat, he replied, “Much as I dislike keeping a disgruntled employee in the department against her will, I don’t see what other choice we have. Her complaint that she’s embarrassed is a far cry from a valid charge of sexual harassment. Since no opening exists elsewhere in the plant, we can’t manufacture one to her convenience. If she can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, as they say, her only recourse is to resign. If she persists in grieving, I think the chances are pretty slight that she’ll win.”