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Total Articles: 18

Employer’s “solicitous treatment” of alleged rapist may create a hostile environment for coworker/victim.

Can an employer’s perceived preferential treatment of an alleged rapist create a hostile work environment for the female employee who reported the rape? The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a jury should determine the answer to that question. Fuller v. Idaho Dept. of Corrections, 9th Cir., No. 14-36110, July 31, 2017.

Hugs May Create Hostile Work Environment, 9th Circuit Rules

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that unwelcome workplace hugs may give rise to a sexually hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. A female corrections officer claimed that her male superior hugged her often enough to make her uncomfortable at work. The employer and the co-defendant county sheriff countered that the hugs were completely innocuous and never involved sexual comments or touching.

Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation in the Fourth Circuit, Part II: Recent Decisions Create New Challenges for Employers

Part one of this two-part series discussed the first of two significant rulings issued by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in May of 2015. The first part focused on Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corporation, No. 13-473 (May 7, 2015), in which the Fourth Circuit overruled existing precedent and concluded that an isolated incident of harassment was severe enough to create a hostile work environment. Part two focuses on Foster v. University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, No. 14-1073 (May 21, 2015), in which the Fourth Circuit rejected an argument that the Supreme Court of the United States in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar intended to create a “heightened causation standard” for retaliation claims brought under the burden-shifting McDonnell Douglas framework.

Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation in the Fourth Circuit, Part I: Recent Decisions Create New Challenges for Employers

In May 2015, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over federal courts in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina) issued two opinions with negative consequences for employers facing claims of hostile work environment or retaliation.

Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Claims Harder to Defend After Fourth Circuit Ruling

Last week’s decision by the Fourth Circuit in Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp., No. 13-1473 (4th Cir., May 7, 2015) now means that in the Fourth Circuit, a single instance of harassment may create an actionable hostile work environment claim, and that an employee can be protected from retaliation when complaining about harassment, even if the purported harassment is ultimately not severe enough to create a hostile work environment. The Fourth Circuit’s decision to overturn summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer signals an uphill battle for employers’ attempting to obtain summary judgment on matters where hostile work environment is alleged. The standard for a viable hostile work environment or harassment claim under Title VII is that the conduct at issue is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the plaintiff’s terms and conditions of employment, thus resulting in an abusive environment. Single incidents, stray comments, or isolated utterances have long been held insufficient to meet the standard. The Fourth Circuit deviated from this standard when it found that an isolated racial slur by a supervisor was sufficient, by itself, to allow both a hostile work environment and retaliation claim to proceed to trial.

Ostracism and petty mistreatments may collectively rise to the level of hostile work environment.

A female plumber on “light duty” in the City of Chicago’s Department of Sewers filed a lawsuit alleging that because she was female, her supervisor assigned menial work to her, prohibited her coworkers from interacting with her, and subjected her to alleged “verbal violence.” While the district court viewed each of those actions individually and found that none constituted hostile work environment under Title VII, the7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s summary judgment in favor of the City, and determined that the case should move forward to trial, on the basis that a jury could find that the collective treatment could rise to the level of hostile environment. Anna M. Hall v. City of Chicago, 7th Cir., No. 11-3279, March 29, 2013.

Seventh Circuit Reaffirms that Use of Gender-Specific Term Does Not Automatically Constitute Harassment

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed earlier decisions holding that the use of gender-specific terms (e.g., “bitch”) in the workplace does not automatically constitute harassment. Instead, the use of such words in the workplace must be viewed in context—and only supports a sexual harassment claim if there is evidence that it was used in a hostile manner to demean someone based on, or because of, his or her sex.

One federal appellate court outlines parameters for "hostile work environment" claim.

One of the issues most frequently litigated in employment cases is whether the remarks and actions of an employer rise to the level of the “hostile work environment” needed to support a claim of discrimination. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed that issue, and provided at least some clarity to the definition, adding its voice to the courts that have held that racial epithets directed at employees other than the plaintiff, and non-racial adverse actions directed at that plaintiff, both can be considered as elements of a hostile work environment if other evidence of racial animus is present. Hernandez v. Valley View Hosp. Assn., 10th Cir., No. 11-1244, June 26, 2012.

Sexual innuendos and demeaning comments cost employer $1.6 Million.

In gender discrimination cases under Title VII, a jury can award back pay and front pay, but also can award compensatory damages if it believes that an employee was harmed emotionally or psychologically by the alleged harassment or hostile work environment. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed a $1.6 Million damages award against a Massachusetts hospital and a male physician, and in favor of a female neurosurgeon who claimed hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII. Tuli v. Brigham & Women’s Hospital, 1st Circ., No. 09-1731, August 29, 2011.

Are Employers Properly Protecting Themselves From Harassment Claims?

Recent harassment cases should serve as a warning to employers regarding the effectiveness of their harassment policies, especially in hostile work environment cases.

Hostile Work Environment Can Be Based On A Single Bad Act

A federal appellate court recently held that a jury must determine whe-ther a single act is sufficient to support a worker's hostile work environment claim. According to the court, "a single act can create a hostile environment if it is severe enough . . ., and instances of uninvited physical contact with intimate parts of the body are among the most severe types of sexual harassment." Berry v. Chicago Transit Authority, No. 07-2288, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (August 23, 2010).

Actionable Hostile Work Environment Can Be Based Upon a Single Action.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that it is up to a jury to determine whether, in fact, a single instance of uninvited intimate physical contact may be sufficient to support a claim of hostile work environment. Berry v. Chicago Transit Authority, 7th Cir., No. 07-2288, August 23, 2010.

Actionable hostile work environment can be based upon a single action.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that it is up to a jury to determine whether, in fact, a single instance of uninvited intimate physical contact may be sufficient to support a claim of hostile work environment

Threatening Language May Support Claim of Hostile Environment, Even Without Sexual References.

For the second time in as many weeks, a federal appeals court decision rests on the determination that an alleged harasser who makes gender-specific slurs and comments can create a hostile work environment for a female employee, even though the harasser is an “Equal Opportunity Harasser” who makes crass and offensive remarks to “everyone, regardless of gender.” Sharon Kaytor v. Electric Boat Corp., 2d Circ., No. 09-1859-cv, June 29, 2010.

Threatening language may support claim of hostile environment, even without sexual references.

For the second time in as many weeks, a federal appeals court decision rests on the determination that an alleged harasser who makes gender-specific slurs and comments can create a hostile work environment for a female employee, even though the harasser is an “Equal Opportunity Harasser” who makes crass and offensive remarks to “everyone, regardless of gender.”

Equal Opportunity Harasser’s Use of Female-Specific Slurs and Remarks Can Support Claim of Hostile Work Environment.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that an alleged harasser who makes gender-specific slurs and comments can create a hostile work environment for a female employee, even though the harasser is an “Equal Opportunity Harasser” who makes sexually offensive remarks to “anybody, any time.”

Equal Opportunity Harasser's use of female-specific slurs and remarks can support claim of hostile work environment.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that an alleged harasser who makes gender-specific slurs and comments can create a hostile work environment for a female employee, even though the harasser is an “Equal Opportunity Harasser” who makes sexually offensive remarks to “anybody, any time.” EEOC v. Fairbrook Medical Clinic, P.A., 4th Circ., No. 09-1610, June 18, 2010.

Conduct Not Directed at Plaintiff May Support Claim of Hostile Environment.

In order to successfully support a claim of hostile work environment under Title VII, an employee must show that the offending conduct was “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive work environment.” One federal appellate court recently held that offensive conduct not witnessed by an individual may still contribute to that individual’s claim that a workplace environment was hostile, and should be admitted as part of the employee’s Title VII lawsuit.