The Alabama Federal District Court case, Reeves v. CH Robinson Worldwide, offers a significant guide to sexual harassment workplace issues. Plaintiff Ingrid Reeves began working as a transportation sales rep in the company’s office. She was the only woman. Reeves alleged that sexually offensive language permeated her work environment every day (To read a complete collection of crude language, review the facts of the case). This rude behavior continued despite complaints to co-workers and management. What’s more, an offensive radio program played in the workplace every day.
Reeves resigned and filed a complaint alleging that the sexually offensive language and radio show created a hostile work environment that violated Title VII. The trial court entered a summary judgment for the company on the grounds that because men and women were subject to the same language, the harassment was not “based on” Reeves’ sex
She appealed, claiming that simply because she was not the target of the harassing language did not determine whether there was a hostile work environment. The appellate court agreed, ruling that “sex-specific profanity” is more degrading to women than men, and that a workplace permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult satisfied the “based-on”� element required to support a sexual harassment hostile environment case. The court based this conclusion in part on parallels with race discrimination cases.
After analyzing the frequency and severity of the problem, the court held that the evidence provided could lead a reasonable jury to believe that the harassing conduct need not tangibly affect an employee’s job performance to be actionable. The court added that, “Ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language, gender-related jokes, and occasional teasing does not satisfy the severe or pervasive element required for a claim.”
Lesson learned: Beware of employees entering a traditionally male or female role at your company. Once this happens, the rules do in fact change!
To read the case, click here.