From charm to harm: A content-analytic review of sexual harassment court cases involving workplace romance

Pierce, C. A., Muslin, I. S., Dudley, C. M., & Aguinis, H.
Management Research, Vol, 6, p. 27-45.

We reviewed U.S. federal and state sexual harassment court cases involving a prior workplace romance between the plaintiff and alleged harasser. Results of our content analysis show that, unlike employees’ decisions, judges’ decisions can be predicted from legal but not ethically salient extralegal case features. Hence, when compared to prior research, our study reveals the following discrepancy: judges follow a traditional legal model, whereas employees follow an ethical model when making decisions about romance-harassment cases. Our study also reveals that the mere presence (versus absence) of a prior romance reduces the likelihood of a plaintiff’s success in a harassment case. We discuss implications for management practice and research from the perspective of legal and ethical decision making.