Can Harassing Conduct That Is Sexist In Nature Create A Hostile Work Environment?
Having represented employment discrimination victims for more than twenty years, our labor lawyers in Marion County, Florida know that women are often subjected to harassing conduct that is sexist in nature in the workplace. Unfortunately, our labor attorneys in Ocala, Florida have learned, many employees are unaware that harassing conduct that is sexist in nature can create a hostile work environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law. When experiencing harassing conduct that is sexist in nature, many employees mistakenly believe that the harassment is not unlawful because it does not involve conduct that is explicitly sexual in nature, such as sexual comments, sexual advances, or sexual touching.
However, as explained by the court in Carrillo v. Empire Hotel Services, LLC, 2023 WL 3993767 (D. N.J. June 14, 2023), “for hostile work environment claims, the harassing conduct need not be sexual in nature; rather its defining characteristic is that the harassment occurs because of the victim’s sex.” Thus, a hostile work environment can be created when the harassing conduct is sexual or sexist in nature. When a woman’s work environment involves sexist comments, gender-specific epithets, or gender-specific derogatory language, she is exposed to conditions of employment that are humiliating and degrading to women and, thus, endures a discriminatorily abusive working environment because of her sex. As the court in R & R Ventures, Inc., 244 F.3d 334 (4th Cir. 2001) observed, a work environment involving “remarks that intimidate, ridicule, and maliciously demean the status of women can create an environment that is as hostile as an environment that contains unwanted sexual advances.”
In this article, our labor lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in Ward v. Cohen Media Publications, LLC, 2023 WL 5353342 (S.D. N.Y. Aug. 21, 2023) demonstrates that harassing conduct that is sexist in nature can create a hostile work environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law.
Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit
In that case, a woman named Ward brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Cohen Media Publications, LLC (“Cohen Media”), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex. Under well-established law, harassing conduct that is sexual or sexist in nature is a form of sex discrimination forbidden by Title VII. To violate Title VII, harassing conduct that is sexual or sexist in nature must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a discriminatorily abusive working environment. Ward claims that she was subjected to harassing conduct that is sexist in nature and that the discriminatory harassment created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.
In December 2018, Cohen Media purchased Avenue, a magazine about New York society. In 2019, Ward became the editor-in-chief of the magazine. Ward alleges that she was subjected to discriminatory acts during her employment. Ward alleges that the owner of Cohen Media, Cohen, regularly yelled at her, and treated her like a child, as compared to her male colleagues. Ward alleges corroborating discussions with Cohen’s Executive Assistant and his brother that Cohen’s treatment of her was the result of sexism and being threatened by women in authority. Ward also asserts that Cohen regularly made sexist remarks about women, including about their level of attractiveness and weight.
Ward further claims that Cohen required women to wear skirts and dresses, implicitly allowing me to look up women’s skirts from the glass staircase in the office, despite her complaints. Cohen, according to Ward, also favored women who were willing to cater to his preferences for more sexualized behavior, and she was not. Ward also asserts that women generally were not permitted to attend editorial meetings, and Cohen took advantage of her responsibilities as a mother to make decisions (which he knew she opposed) at a meeting she could not attend.
Ward alleges that she was fired on March 9, 2020 for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons. That day—the first time she allegedly met anyone from the Human Resources Department—Ward was told she was being fired for “cause.” When she asked for more information, Ward asserts that she was not given any; instead, she was told she had 15 minutes to leave the building. Ward claims that her replacement was a single man with no children.
Evidence Of Hostile Work Environment
Cohen Media filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Ward’s hostile work environment claim. In moving for dismissal, Cohen Media argued that the harassment Ward allegedly experienced was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a discriminatorily abusive working environment in violation of Title VII. The trial court denied Cohen Media’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Ward’s allegations were sufficient to state a plausible hostile work environment claim under Title VII.
In denying Cohen Media’s motion for dismissal, the trial court observed Ward “alleges that Cohen regularly yelled at her, and treated her like a child, as compared to her male colleagues.” The trial court also pointed out that Ward “alleges that Cohen regularly made sexist remarks about women evaluated potential employees based on their attractiveness.” “Significantly,” according to the trial court, Ward “also alleges that Cohen required women to wear skirts and dresses, implicitly permitting men to look up women’s skirts from the glass staircase in the offices and taking no action when she complained about this.” “Given the breadth of the pleaded comments and actions” by Cohen, the trial court concluded that Ward “details a workplace environment in which a reasonable employee would find the conditions of her employment altered for the worse.”
Marion County, FL Labor Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our labor attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have been subjected to harassing conduct that is sexual or sexist in nature or have questions about your employee rights under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our labor 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.