Can Sexist Comments Create An Unlawful Hostile Working Environment?
Having represented workplace harassment victims for more than twenty years, our Marion County, Florida workplace harassment lawyers know that a common employment law myth is that only sexual behavior can create an unlawful sex-based hostile work environment. As a result of this employment law myth, our Ocala, Florida workplace harassment attorneys have learned, many harassment victims are unaware that they are working in an unlawful sex-based hostile environment. In this article, our Marion County, Florida workplace harassment lawyers explain how a hostile work environment case recently settled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) illustrates that sexist remarks can create an unlawful sex-based hostile working environment.
Workplace Harassment Lawsuit
In a press release issued on September 7, 2021, the EEOC announced that it has entered into a Consent Decree resolving a hostile work environment harassment and retaliation lawsuit against Great Rentals and Events, LLC (Great Rentals). On April 9, 2020, the EEOC filed the lawsuit, Case No. 5:20-cv-448, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. In the Consent Decree, which was signed by the U.S. District Court Judge on September 6, 2021, Great Rentals agreed to pay $20,000 to resolve the lawsuit.
Unlawful Sex-Based Harassment
The EEOC brought the hostile work environment harassment and retaliation lawsuit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) on behalf of a former employee of Great Rentals, a woman named Gonzalez (Gonzalez). The EEOC contends that Great Rentals violated Title VII by requiring Gonzalez to work in a sex-based hostile work environment and terminating in her employment in retaliation for complaining about the sex-based harassment.
Under Title VII, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex. Under well-established law, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination forbidden by Title VII. 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 work environment. To protect sex discrimination victims, Title VII also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about perceived sex discrimination in the workplace, including sexual harassment.
Unlawful sex-based harassment can take different forms, including sexual behavior and non-sexual behavior. Thus, unlawful sex-based harassment is not limited to explicitly sexual conduct, such as sexual propositions, physical touching, requests for sexual favors, and sexual comments. Rather, prohibited sex-based harassment includes sexist remarks, gender-based derogatory comments, and remarks reflecting an anti-female bias. As the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in EEOC v. R & R Ventures, Inc., 244 F.3d 334 (4th Cir. 2001) explained, a work environment involving “remarks that intimidate, ridicule, and maliciously demean the status of women can create an environment that is hostile as an environment that contains unwanted sexual advances.” Consequently, non-sexually harassing behavior can, by itself, reach a sufficiently severe or pervasive level to create an unlawful sex-based hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.
Employee Claims Unlawful Harassment
Great Rentals is a special events company that provides services for weddings and corporate functions. In March 2018, Gonzalez began working for Great Rentals as an event rental coordinator. The EEOC claims that after commencing her employment, Gonzalez was subjected to demeaning sex-based harassment by the owner of Great Rentals. The owner’s alleged sex-based harassment towards Gonzalez included sexist comments, such as stating “all women are worthless because they have kids,” remarking that “women are irresponsible, they think they own the place” after a female worker called in sick, addressing female employees as “little girls,” and telling Gonzalez that “if you were to get pregnant, you’d be of less value to my company because you’d have to miss work to be with your kids.” The EEOC further claims that the owner’s sex-based harassment of Gonzalez included subjecting her to verbal conduct of a sexual nature, such as telling her he would pay her to just stand “around so he could look at her” and stating that she would “look good even in a burlap sack.”
Gonzalez, according to the EEOC, lodged a complaint about the owner’s sex-based harassment with a human resources employee. Despite her complaint, the EEOC maintains, Great Events failed to take effective corrective action to prevent the owner’s harassment from continuing. Instead of taking remedial action, the EEOC alleges, the human resources employee told Gonzalez that there was little she could do because the purported harasser was the owner of the company. Rather than remedy the sex-based hostile work environment, the EEOC contends, the human resources employee told the owner to terminate Gonzalez’s employment. Implementing the advice of the human resources employee, Great Events fired Gonzalez.
Lawyers For Harassment Victims
The EEOC is the administrative agency of the federal government responsible for administering, interpreting, and enforcing federal employment discrimination laws. As part of its statutory mission to protect employee rights under federal employment discrimination law, the EEOC files lawsuits in federal court on behalf of employment discrimination victims, including employees subjected to sex-based hostile work environment harassment.
In a press release issued by the EEOC on September 7, 2021, regarding the case, a trial attorney for the EEOC’s San Antonio Field Office, Phillip Moss, explained that “unlawful sex-based harassment includes not only unwelcome sexual conduct but also gender-based animosity, including sexist comments.” “This settlement,” Mr. Moss added, “should underscore the importance of employers taking the necessary steps to protect their employees from workplace harassment and comply with anti-discrimination law.”
Marion County Workplace Harassment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida, and representing workers throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida workplace harassment attorneys have fought for the rights of employment discrimination victims for more than two decades. If you have been required to work in a discriminatory sex-based hostile environment or have questions about your rights under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Ocala, Florida workplace harassment lawyers. Our labor law attorneys take workplace 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.