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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Can A Single Incident Of Sexual Touching By Itself Create A Sexually Hostile Work Environment?

Sexual harassment in the office

For more than two decades, our Marion County, Florida hostile work environment attorneys have fought for the rights of sexual harassment victims. Through their decades of experience representing sexual harassment victims, our Ocala, Florida hostile work environment lawyers know that touching an intimate body part is one of the most egregious forms of sexual harassment. Despite the severity of a harasser’s direct contact with an imitate body part, employers customarily argue that a single incident of sexual touching is not sufficiently severe to create a sexually hostile work environment. In this article, our Marion County, Florida hostile work environment lawyers explain how the decision in Domingues v. Barton Chevrolet Cadillac,Case No. 7:18-07772 (E.D. N.Y. Feb. 17, 2021) illustrates that a single incident of direct contact with an intimate body part is sufficiently severe by itself to create a sexually hostile work environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law.

Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit

In that case, a woman named Domingues brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer, Barton Chevrolet, Inc. (Barton Chevrolet), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII makes sexual harassment an unlawful discriminatory employment practice. To violate Title VII, sexual harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment. Domingues claims that Barton Chevrolet violated Title VII by creating and maintaining a sexually hostile work environment.

Barton Chevrolet is a car dealership in Newburgh, New York. In October 2016, Domingues began working at Barton Chevrolet as a parts cashier. On May 12, 2017, a woman named DiCrease touched Domingues’ breast. Domingues testified that she walked into DiCrease’s office and handed DiCrease a piece of paper at which time DiCrease “got up out of her chair and started making sexual comments about [Domingues’] breasts and grabbed [Domingues’] breast physically.” DiCrease allegedly said, “they can’t be real, they are too big for you, why do they bounce when you walk.”

On August 8, 2017, Domingues reported the incident to her supervisor, a man named Milkovich. Domingues also reported the incident to DiCrease’s supervisor, a man named Mayer. Mayer sent DiCrease home for the day. Although Barton Chevrolet denies that Domingues ever complained about inappropriate sexual comments from DiCrease prior to May 12, 2017, Domingues testified that she spoke to Milkovich and Mayer “between five and ten” times in the Spring of 2017 regarding DiCrease “talking sexually” to her. According to Domingues, throughout April and May of 2017, “every time [she] went to work, DiCrease would make sexual comments to Domingues about her breasts, such as “why are they big,” “why do they bounce when you walk” and “your boobs are too big for you.”

Touching Breast Creates Hostile Environment

Barton Chevrolet filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Domingues’ sexual harassment claim. In doing so, Barton Chevrolet argued that DiCrease’s alleged sexual behavior was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile working environment in violation of Title VII. The trial court denied Barton Chevrolet’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Domingues was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on the issue of whether she was subjected to hostile work environment sexual harassment in violation of Title VII.

At the outset of its opinion, the trial court explained that courts have “repeatedly held that evidence of a single incident of sexual harassment that is extraordinarily severe can establish an objectively hostile work environment.” In applying this principle, the trial court determined that the single incident of DiCrease’s touching of Domingues’ breasts on May 12, 2017 by itself “qualifies as extraordinarily severe” to constitute a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.

Although the trial court found that a single incident of touching Domingues’ breast by itself was sufficiently severe to establish a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, the trial court also explained that Domingues “does more than identify a single extraordinarily severe incident of sexual harassment.” Domingues, the trial court noted, testified that in addition to touching her breast on May 12, 2017, DiCrease stated “they can’t be real, they are too big for you, why do they bounce when you walk.” The trial court also pointed out that Domingues testified that “every time [she] went to work” in April and May of 2017, DiCrease would make sexual comments to Domingues about her breasts, such as “why are they big,” “why do they bounce when you walk” and “your boobs are too big for you.” Based on this evidence, the trial court reasoned that even if the single incident of touching Domingues’ breast on May 12, 2017, was not sufficiently severe by itself to establish a hostile work environment, “there was a series of incidents which created an objectively hostile work environment.”

Hostile Work Environment Lawyers In Ocala, FL

Based in Ocala, Florida, and representing workers throughout Central Florida, our hostile work environment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to representing sexual harassment victims. If you have been required to work in a sexually hostile work environment or have questions about your protection against hostile work environment sexual harassment, please contact our office for a free consultation with our hostile work environment lawyers in Ocala, Florida. Our employees’ rights attorneys take sexual harassment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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