Duty to Protect

Duty to Protect

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a paper on sexual aggression in nursing homes. The study concluded that residents are the most common perpetrators and victims of sexual assault. One factor is dementia which sometimes causes inappropriate hypersexual behavior.

Businesses have a duty to protect employees from harassment no matter who is doing it, said Mary Jo O’Neill, a lawyer with the EEOC. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation.

O’Neill said in a statement, “Employers must ensure that their employees can work in an environment free from sexual harassment. “When an employer learns that an employee is being sexually harassed, the employer must act immediately regardless of whether the alleged harasser is a manager, employee, or client.”


SavaSeniorCare is a nationwide billion dollar nursing home chain. It is infamous in the industry. The EEOC accused SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC, and Sava Senior Care LLC (collectively, “Sava”) of tolerating the sexual harassment of female employees. The lawsuit accuses SavaSeniorCare and its subsidiaries of subjecting female employees to severe and pervasive sexual harassment that created a hostile work environment at the San Juan Living Center in Colorado.

Residents at the San Juan Living Center operated by Sava Senior Care LLC repeatedly subjected female employees to sexual harassment, including grabbing their breasts and buttocks, asking them for sexual favors and using inappropriate sexual language around them.

The EEOC filed suit against the nursing home operator for violating the law and duty to protect. Female employees reported Sava failed to protect them from sexual harassment including being groped and explicit comments. The EEOC only files lawsuits after investigation and a determination that significant evidence of wrongdoing exists. It also attempts resolution through a formal conciliation process before litigation.

The lawsuit accuses Sava of subjecting employees to severe and pervasive sexual harassment in a hostile work environment. The EEOC said that residents at the Sava facility operated by Sava Senior Care LLC repeatedly subjected female employees to sexual harassment. The harassment included grabbing their breasts and buttocks, asking them for sexual favors and using inappropriate sexual language around them.

The lawsuit cited multiple examples of residents grabbing women’s privates and exposing themselves. The men also routinely made suggestive sexual comments. The behavior was frequent and notorious. Management was aware that it was happening and did nothing.

Annaliese Impink, the SavaSeniorCare spokesperson, said the company would not comment.


The EEOC further alleged that employees complained to Sava management. Sava was aware of the ongoing harassment. According to the EEOC, Sava did nothing to stop the harassment or prevent future harassment. The lawsuit also says the Company retaliated against women. Sava even fired one victim who complained.

Amy Burkholder, director of EEOC’s Denver Field Office, added, “It is absolutely critical that employers develop policies and procedures to ensure that employees who report harassment are not punished for doing so. Employees should be applauded for coming forward but, too often, we see employees punished for protesting illegal discrimination.”

EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employ­ment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

“In this case, they kind of said, ‘This is what the job is. Take it or leave it,’” O’Neill said. “They literally blew these women off and said if you want to work here this is what you have to put up with.”


The EEOC requests that SavaSenior Care provide backpay, plus interest, to the victims. The EEOC seeks compensation for the unlawful and hostile work environment. The lawsuit also asks the senior living center to put policies and programs in place to prevent future harassment.

If this billion dollar company can’t protect its own employees, how can they possibly protect vulnerable residents?