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Can Gender-Specific Sexually Degrading Language Create A Work Environment Hostile To Women?


Through their decades of experience handling employment discrimination cases, our employment lawyers in Marion County, Florida know that employers routinely argue that employment discrimination law does not create a general civility code in the workplace. This argument is most commonly advanced in sex-based harassment cases where employers maintain that women are required to endure general vulgarity or derogatory language in the workplace in order to avoid turning employment discrimination law into a general civility code. Under this employer take on employment discrimination law, a workplace rife with vulgar or derogatory language does not create a work environment hostile to women.

As part of their desire for a free pass to discriminate against women, employers further maintain that gender-specific sexually degrading language does not create a sex-based discriminatorily abusive working environment. According to employers, to conclude that gender-specific sexually derogatory language can create a work environment hostile to women would impose a legal duty on employers to purify the language of the workplace. An employer take on employment discrimination law disturbingly endorsed in the now discredited decision in Perry v. Harris Chernin, Inc., 126 F.3d 1010 (7th Cir. 1997), where the court incredulously ruled that the “occasional vulgar banter, tinged with sexual innuendo, of coarse or boorish workers” does not create a hostile work environment in violation of employment discrimination law because the “workplace that is actionable is the one that is hellish.”

In this article, our employment lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in Massey v. Dorning, 611 F.Supp.3d 1301 (N.D. Ala. 2020) shows that gender-specific sexually degrading language, including sexually-laden remarks and gender epithets, can create a work environment that is hostile women in violation of employment discrimination law.

Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit

In that case, a woman named Massey brought a hostile work environment harassment claim against her employer, Madison County, Alabama (the “County”), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Title VII protects employees from sex-based harassment in the workplace. To violate Title VII, sex-based harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment. Massey alleges that she was required to work in a sex-based hostile environment in violation of Title VII.

Massey is employed by the County as a Deputy Sheriff at the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office is predominately male, with no female supervisors. At an orientation meeting, the Madison County Sheriff (the “Sheriff”) allegedly told a female employee that the office was a “male dominate workplace” where “men do what men do.” Massey alleges that, essentially, the Sheriff communicated that he would not take any disciplinary action against male employees for offensive or discriminatory behavior, and that he expected female employees to accept such behavior without complaint.

Massey claims that female employees were subjected to offensive conduct “on a near daily basis.” Massey alleges that: male supervisors and employees referred to female arrestees as whores and prostitutes, and “commented about the smell of [their] private parts”; male co-workers openly discussed having sex with married female co-workers; male co-workers explicitly stated their sexual desires regarding female co-workers and openly made crude comments about their breasts and buttocks; and that the men in the office also referred to female co-workers as “whores” and “bitches.” Massey contends that she was personally exposed to some of this behavior but acknowledges that not all of it was directed at her. Massey further alleges that the Sheriff was physically present in the office and thus was able to personally observe this purported conduct.

Creation Of Hostile Work Environment

The County filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Massey’s hostile work environment claim. In support of its motion for dismissal, the County argued that the trial court was required to dismiss Massey’s claim in order to avoid turning Title VII into a general civility code. The trial court denied the County’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Massey had alleged sufficient facts to plausibly establish that she worked in a sex-based hostile environment in violation of Title VII.

In support of its ruling, the trial court observed that the Sheriff “purportedly told a female employee at orientation that the Sheriff’s Office was a ‘male dominant workplace’ where ‘men do what men do.’ ” An allegation that if true, the trial court reasoned, would enable a jury to “infer that the Sheriff was communicating a custom where misconduct by male employees was tolerated and women were expected to accept such behavior.” The trial court also observed that Massey claims that “ ‘on a near daily basis’ male employees and supervisors openly discussed having sexual relationships with female employees; they explicitly stated their sexual desires about female employees, including making crude comments about their bodies; and they referred to female employees as ‘whores,’ ‘prostitutes,’ and ‘bitches.’ ” “This conduct,” the trial court concluded, “is clearly gender-specific.” This conduct, the trial court further determined, “is also offensive and derogatory, and when in purportedly occurs on a ‘near daily basis’ it is precisely the sort of behavior that exposes women to disadvantageous conditions in the workplace.”

Marion County Employment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you been required to work in a hostile environment or have questions about your rights as a hostile work environment harassment victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination 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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