Harassment Bystander and HR Fail

Harassment Bystander and HR Fail

In a case decided on March 14, 2019, a woman who worked as a receptionist at a law firm alleged that the owner of the firm, Michael Morse, groped her breasts and groin area while saying things like, “you make me so hard,” and “I want to take you into my office.”

Morse allegedly approached from behind another woman, a paralegal, and grabbed her breasts in front of two other senior attorneys. She immediately removed his hands from her breasts, and later complained to HR. An HR rep allegedly told her that “her number one priority [was] to protect Morse’s reputation.” The paralegal then talked to one of the attorneys who had witnessed him sexually assault her. That attorney allegedly responded, “what was I supposed to do, you know how Michael is.”

The women’s assault cases against Michael can now go to trial.

Lessons learned:

HR people—the best way to protect the owner’s reputation is to make sure he doesn’t get sued in a case that goes all the way to the Court of Appeals.

Witnesses—what you’re supposed to do is call the police. This is sexual assault. It’s a crime.

Also, in some states such as New Jersey and Hawaii, the HR person and the attorney-witness can be sued for aiding and abetting the harasser. And attorneys, as officers of the court who do not report crimes, may be subject to disciplinary action by the state bar.


By R. Makana Risser Chai

Makana Risser Chai is a trainer, HR consultant and former Silicon Valley attorney who specializes in teaching courses on creating respectful workplaces by preventing harassment, bullying, disrespect, and unconscious bias.