March 30, 2021

Incivility and Bullying Strike Again!

A woman sued her employer for sexual harassment. She lost. So why tell this story? It has lessons to be learned.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the woman was not subjected to an unlawful hostile work environment under Title VII because the conduct was not severe or pervasive enough.  That’s right.  Even the EEOC’s own website reads, “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality.”

So, where is the lesson to be learned?  I must say, the conduct to which this employee was subjected by numerous coworkers was downright mean. Some of the nicknames assigned to her by coworkers were “stinky” and “messy.”  Other conduct was, well….gross; I will not describe it in detail here.  I will add that at least half of the incidents involved conduct engaged in by other women, not by a male coworker or supervisor.

Even though the court found in favor of the employer, it reminded us:

    • Sexual harassment does not require sexual desire or sex-based animus. “[A]ny unequal treatment of an employee that would not occur but for the employee’s sex constitutes harassment based on sex.”
    • It does not matter that much of the verbal abuse came from other women. “Sex-specific and derogatory terms” can serve as evidence of unlawful harassment.
    • While five verbally abusive comments in a 15-month period do not rise to the level of illegality (so says this court in this case),

P.S. Would you go under the knife and get “invasive surgery” to avoid workplace harassment? That’s what this employee says she did.  She alleges she underwent breast reduction surgery because of repeated teasing at work about the size of her breasts. True or not, lawful or not, who wants to work in a workplace where that conduct is permitted, much less condoned?!

Be the eyes and ears of your organization. Watch and listen. When you see or hear unkind, uncivil, unprofessional conduct, tell the perpetrator to stop it. Exercise the 3 D’s of Bystander Intervention!  Not familiar with those? Contact FiveL today for free resources. Include them in your staff training programs, too!