Marc Smirnoff, founder of The Oxford American magazine, has been ousted from his company after allegations of sexual harassment.
The founder of the company was not even immune from the effects of sexual harassment allegations (which were not even proven) serving as a reminder to small business owners that they should be especially careful to look out for inappropriate behavior.
Smirnoff founded the literary magazine in 1992 and it is alleged that he had engaged in a culture of sexual harassment for quite some time at the magazine, reports The New York Times.
Things reportedly began to unravel for Smirnoff following an overnight morale-boosting retreat on July 4th. It's alleged that Smirnoff became angry that his younger staff members were playing drinking games and particularly targeted one female 19-year-old intern, reports the Times. Smirnoff's anger at the intern allegedly quickly turned into affection as he is said to have asked the intern to take a ride with him to his favorite "make-out spot."
These allegations prompted a complaint and investigation. And ten days after the retreat, the magazine's board of directors ousted Smirnoff.
In the Times article, Smirnoff is reported as saying that his touching of employees was always "paternalistic and nonsexual." Smirnoff also reportedly said that "he assigned a benign playfulness to his behavior and said his motivation was crucial to understanding his position."
Unfortunately for Smirnoff, the intent of the harasser isn't what matters. Instead, it's how a reasonable person would perceive the acts. Business owners should take a lesson from The Oxford American and evaluate your companies for possible harassment.
[Editor's Note 8/15/12, 12:35 pm EST: This post was updated to reflect that Marc Smirnoff was let go by The American Oxford following allegations of sexual harassment. An official reason for Smirnoff's termination was not released.]
- What Literary Theory Tells Us About Fired Oxford American Editor Marc Smirnoff's Case (Slate)
- Sexual Harassment (FindLaw)
- Employers Brace for EEOC 'Red Zone' Lawsuits (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)