What is a Hostile Work Environment?

If your employer yelled at you and threw a notebook in your direction, would that be grounds for a hostile work environment? Not according to a federal court of appeals in the District of Columbia. In Brooks v. Grundmann, the court decided that the manager’s behavior was nothing more than “an isolated expression of frustration” and was insufficient to support the plaintiff’s federal race and sex hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Plaintiff, Patricia Brooks, alleged that her male supervisor created a hostile work environment between 2005 – 2008 by yelling at and insulting her in front of colleagues, as well as throwing a notebook in her direction when he was upset with her presentation of a new project.

Brooks’ case was dismissed because she neglected to prove that the conduct that had created the alleged hostile work environment was severe or pervasive. Based on her allegations and the fact that her supervisor had some legitimate concerns about her performance (and instructed her of them appropriately); the court maintained that this conduct was not sufficiently severe to support her claims. Although some of her examples clearly represent poor managerial skills they are not considered, by law, to create a hostile work environment.

The findings were similar in Fichter v. AMG Resources Corporation. Plaintiff Shirley Fichter brought suit against her employer claiming unlawful termination and gender discrimination due to a hostile work environment, citing:

  • Her manager telling her she should work closer to home
  • Asking her to turn more work over to her colleague
  • Asking her to complete her work faster so she doesn’t hold up her colleagues work
  • Require that she advise him if she would be arriving late or leaving early
  • Keeping track of her vacation
  • Asking her for information but then leaving the office without telling her and before she can provide requested information to him

The court decided that what her manager was asking of her are items managers generally ask of their employees, so nothing amounted to a Title VII violation.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The legal requirements for a hostile work environment are:

  • Actions or behavior that discriminates against a protected classification such as age, race, religion, sex, or disability.
  • The behavior must last over time, and not be limited to an off-color remark or two. These claims must be reported to Human Resources for intervention.
  • The hostile behavior, actions or communication must be severe and create an environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile, abusive and that disrupt work. Another form of severity occurs if the hostile work environment interferes with an employee’s career advancement.
  • The employer knows about the actions or behavior and did not sufficiently intervene.

Bullying

Another hot topic as of late is Workplace Bullying which also fits under the hostile work environment umbrella. 37% of adult American employees are said to have experienced some type of bullying at work and 80% of that bullying is legal.


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