Sexual Harassment Across the Pond: Is Male Accuser “Hypersensitive?”

A sexual harassment case from across the pond in London, England has galvanized pundits on both sides of the Atlantic. The matter concerns a 68-year-old woman, Bianca Revrenna, who stands accused of sexually harassing shop worker Konstantinos Kalomoiris by “slapping him on the bottom three times.” According to the UK publication Metro Reporter, Revrenna “was savoring [tapping younger employees]” and told Konstantinos: “I do that to all the boys.”

The harassment allegedly took place between late 2009 and early 2010 at the UK retail store John Lewis.

The story has piqued debate for two main reasons:

#1. It’s a sexual harassment story involving an older woman harassing a younger man.

The majority of harassment cases that get attention in the popular press involve men harassing younger women.

#2. Kalomoiris’ coworkers have declared him to be “hypersensitive.”

According to Stewart Dawson, a personnel manager for John Lewis who investigated the allegations, “Kostas was easily upset. Staff had regular conversations with him about him being oversensitive. Some managers described him as hypersensitive…On one occasion [he] refused to sign a card for a senior partner because he said she had once been rude to him.”

This counteraccusation – that the plaintiff had been “hypersensitive” to normal, friendly behavior — sounds, in a way, like a variation of the “she was asking for it” (because she dressed provocatively or acted flirtatiously, etc) defense sometimes egregiously employed in sexual assault cases.

That said, even the most staunch victims’ rights advocates will admit that there must be a line between “hypersensitivity” and “normal, appropriate sensitivity.”

So where do you draw that line?

It’s always hard to say. It’s a judgment that must be made in context. On the one hand, it’s clearly not okay if your boss persistently asks you out and gropes you and/or fires or demotes you because you won’t engage in flirtatious play. But where do you cross the line from appropriate touching to inappropriate touching? If you give an employee a backslap for a job well done, is that inappropriate? It actually might be, depending on the relationship and the context in which the backslap was given.

Many pundits blame today’s “overly litigious” environment for making workplace cultures too formal and too rigid. But for every clear case of “hypersensitivity,” it’s a fair bet that you can find several other cases of “over the line” behavior from bosses or fellow employees.

If you have personally experienced gender discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliation at work, get a free consultation from a reputable employment rights law firm. Call (212) 688-5640 now to schedule your consultation with Joseph & Kirschenbaum, or peruse www.jhllp.com for additional resources about sexual harassment and gender discrimination.