Law360 (February 16, 2018, 9:59 PM EST) -- Even though Valentine’s Day is in the rearview mirror, a recent Ninth Circuit ruling that a police officer can pursue claims that she was illegally fired for having an affair with a colleague is the latest proof that legal questions about interoffice romances are here to stay.
The Ninth Circuit ruled Feb. 9 that a married former Roseville, California, police officer can pursue allegations that she was wrongly fired because the department disapproved of her having an affair with another married cop. The appellate panel found that her sexual conduct was protected by her constitutional right to private, off-duty intimate association and that her employer offered no proof that it meaningfully affected her job performance.
But even though the Ninth Circuit’s ruling dealt exclusively with employers in the public sphere, it also shines a spotlight on some of the issues that private businesses often face when they create or modify office fraternization policies.
Consider a ‘Love Contract’
Charles Thompson, chair of Polsinelli PC’s employment class actions practice, said that some companies have included in their policy having unmarried workers having a relationship sign a so-called love contract — which is essentially an acknowledgement by the parties that their romantic attachment at that time is consensual.
Thompson, who manages Polsinelli’s office in San Francisco, said the primary reason is to limit liability to the company, mainly for sexual harassment claims. But he added that love contracts can’t completely keep a company from being subject to a sexual harassment claim “because things can go bad in relationships.”
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