New Sexual-Harassment Rules Proposed by Nevada Casino Regulator

 

Nevada gambling regulators are set to vote this week on new rules that are intended to protect casino workers from sexual harassment, but some who have pushed for changes say the guidelines are too weak to afford real protections.

The Nevada Gaming Commission declined last year to hold a final vote on rules that would have explicitly tied casinos’ operating licenses to preventing and reporting sexual harassment. The commission didn’t explain its decision not to move forward with those rules, which supporters thought would push the state’s top industry to the forefront of a critical issue nationwide.

This year’s proposal directs licensed gambling companies to adopt broad antidiscrimination and antiharassment policies and requires that workplace harassment by both employees and customers to be addressed. But unlike the previous proposal, the rules under consideration don’t mandate that casinos report regularly on their policies, including how many sexual-harassment lawsuits and settlements they enter each year.

Some people in the gambling industry have said that many of the rules in this year’s proposal are already spelled out in existing federal and state law and that an annual-reporting requirement would have held casinos more accountable because it would have alerted regulators to ongoing patterns.

Sandra Douglass Morgan —chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which drafted last year’s proposal and the new one—defended the latest set of rules. She said that while regulators can already ask to see companies’ policies, putting specific language in the regulation tells the companies that the board will be examining whether their policies are being implemented.

Ms. Morgan said the new proposal requires casino companies to establish policies based on their size and operations, adding that it doesn’t make as many specific demands on the companies as last year’s drafted rules. The Gaming Control Board isn’t the appropriate agency to examine individual claims, which should be left to Nevada employment regulators, she said. The new regulations would apply to companies with 15 or more employees.

The current proposal, unlike last year’s plan, goes beyond sexual harassment, Ms. Morgan said, and includes protected categories of workers identified by Nevada antidiscrimination law, including race, religion and age.

The new proposal calls on employers to protect employees from discrimination or harassment carried out by customers, vendors or other third parties. Employers can be held liable for harassment committed by nonemployees at a workplace, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo declined to comment on the latest proposal. Other commissioners either declined to comment or didn’t respond to inquiries. The Gaming Control Board is an investigative body that makes recommendations to the Nevada Gaming Commission.

The proposed regulations follow a January 2018 article in The Wall Street Journal that detailed allegations of sexual misconduct by casino magnate Steve Wynn toward employees of Wynn Resorts Ltd. The Journal reported that Mr. Wynn paid $7.5 million to settle a claim by a manicurist at the Wynn Las Vegas salon who claimed he forced her to have sex.

Mr. Wynn resigned as chairman and chief executive in February 2018. He has said that the idea he ever assaulted any woman is preposterous. Mr. Wynn’s lawyer, Lin Wood, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The effort to enact new rules was started in 2018 by Becky Harris, then chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, working with industry leaders. It culminated with a plan that required licensed companies to complete a 16-point checklist every year affirming the company was meeting minimum standards.

Items on the checklist included providing examples of prohibited conduct, spelling out multiple avenues for workers to report harassment, requiring witnesses’ identities to be kept confidential and a ban on retaliation against complainants. Companies would also report the number of sexual harassment complaints filed internally, in court or with federal or state agencies, and whether and how claims were settled. Neither the checklist nor the litigation reporting is in the current plans.

Ms. Harris said that she is pleased the board is considering the regulations but that she would like the rules to incorporate aspects of the previous proposal, such as annual assessments of policies and litigation reporting to “bolster existing laws and provide additional layers of protection for employees.”

The Nevada Resort Association, a trade group, supported the previous draft and supports the currently proposed rules, a spokeswoman said.

Jan Jones Blackhurst, a longtime casino executive who supported last year’s effort, said she is disappointed with the current proposal because she said it largely reiterates requirements created by existing equal-employment laws that casinos have already been required to follow. Last year’s proposal, with more-detailed reporting by casinos every year, “made a real attempt to find the balance between holding the industry accountable without overregulating,” Ms. Blackhurst said.

Wall Street Journal