(CN) – A woman’s dress and behavior can be used against her in a sexual harassment case, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled, rejecting a worker’s claim that photos of her in a skimpy Halloween costume should not have been admitted into evidence.
Kimberly Dahms worked at Cognex Corp., a computer systems manufacturer, as director of customer satisfaction. She and John Rogers, a financial officer at the company, became friends and drove to work together.
Dahms claimed that Rogers tried to push his way into her hotel room while they were on a business trip in Japan. Rogers denied that the incident took place.
They later went rafting together with their future spouses. Rogers allegedly upset Dahms by commenting that he was one who decided how much money Dahms and her boyfriend (who also worked at Cognex) earned.
After the trip, Dahms stopped socializing with Rogers. He then complained to Dahms’ supervisor about her travel expenses and use of a company credit card. Dahms told her supervisor that Rogers was complaining about her because she “didn’t want to date him.”
Dahms complained to the company’s founder and CEO, Robert Shillman, and played tapes of Rogers’ voicemails telling that she was beautiful, and that he dreamed about her and wanted to kiss her.
Shillman was outraged and offered to have Rogers fired, according to Dahms. She said that wasn’t necessary.
But Shillman began to doubt Dahms’ story after he asked for advice from vice president Jo Ann Woodyard, who clued him in to Rogers and Dahms’ close friendship, including their trips, house visits and double dates.
Dahms filed a complaint for sexual harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment. She lost in trial court and appealed.
She claimed that evidence had been improperly admitted regarding her own dress, speech and conduct, and that the jury was wrongfully instructed to rule for the defendants if she was a “willing participant in sexual behavior in the workplace.”
This evidence included Halloween photos, including one of Dahms dressed in a costume Stillman described as a “see-through” Empire State Building.
Justice Cordy ruled that the evidence was properly admitted and did not cross the line of portraying Dahms as a “loose woman.”
“The evidence of Dahms’ language, apparel, and conduct … was probative of whether she was subjectively offended by her work environment or by Rogers’ conduct.” Cordy ruled.