Can Sexual Harassment Over The Course Of Just One Day Create A Hostile Work Environment?
Having represented sexual harassment victims for more than two decades, our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County, Florida know that employees routinely argue that a sexually hostile work environment claim fails as a matter of law unless the harassment involves repeated conduct occurring over a series of days or even years. In the absence of continuous, on-going sexual harassment, according to employers, a sexual harassment claim fails to meet the threshold requirement of pervasiveness required to sustain a hostile work environment claim. In this article, our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in Kearns v. RCS Trucking & Freight, Inc., Case No. 22-cv-1200 (E.D. Vir. July 31, 2023) shows that sexual harassment which occurs over the course of only one day can rise to the level of pervasiveness to create a hostile work environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law.
Protection From Sexual Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects employees from sex discrimination. Under long-standing law, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination forbidden by Title VII. In Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII does not require employees to run a “gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to work and make a living.” 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. In Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc.,510 U.S. 17 (1993), the Supreme Court determined that the factors relevant in determining whether a hostile work environment has been created “may include the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating; or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.”
Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
In Kearns, a woman named Kearns brought a sexual harassment claim against her former employer, RCS Trucking & Freight, Inc. (RCS Trucking), pursuant to Title VII. Kearns claims that she was sexually harassed by the President of RCS Trucking in violation of Title VII.
On December 4, 2017, Kearns began working for RCS Trucking as a Driver Manager. In March 2020, the President of RCS Trucking and Kearns traveled together on a work trip. The President allegedly had specifically requested that Kearns accompany him on this trip, which consisted of driving round-trip from Virginia to Pennsylvania to make a delivery to a client. During the trip, according to Kearns, the President subjected her to sexually graphic remarks and explicit sexual advances.
Kearns claims that the President spent many hours talking about his sex life during the trip from Virginia to Pennsylvania. After completing the delivery and before beginning their return trip, the President allegedly continued to make sexual remarks to Kearns during the hours-long drive back to Virginia. While they stopped to eat lunch in the truck, Kearns contends that the President’s sexual conduct escalated, including alleged graphic sexual remarks and explicit sexual advances. Kearns alleges that she repeatedly and adamantly rebuffed the President’s purported sexual advances. Kearns further alleges that despite her rejection of the sexual advances, the President proceeded to engage in unwanted touching of her and continued to proposition her for sex. Kearns asserts that she did not respond to the alleged sexual advances and the President eventually began driving again. Kearns alleges that she was instructed by the President to never disclose the purported comments he made to her during the trip.
Kearns maintains that after the work trip, her mental and physical health began to deteriorate. During the three months following the work trip, Kearns claims that she began experiencing anxiety and depression as a result of the President’s alleged behavior. Kearns contends that she “had no choice other than to resign” from RCS Trucking in June 2020 in order to protect her mental and physical health.
One Day Harassment Can Make Title VII Case
RCS Trucking filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Kearns’ sexual harassment claim. In moving for dismissal, RCS Trucking argued that the alleged sexual harassment was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. According to RCS, “one-day-does-not-a-Title VII-case-make” and the alleged harassment was therefore too trivial and infrequent to sustain a Title VII sexual harassment claim, as it spanned the scope of just one day. The trial court disagreed and ruled that Kearns had alleged sufficient facts to state a plausible hostile work environment claim under Title VII.
In denying the motion for dismissal, the trial court disagreed with RCS Trucking’s argument that the alleged sexual harassment was not sufficiently pervasive to create a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. The trial court explained that although “the conduct at issue here occurred over the course of only one day, that conduct was also insistent and unyielding for the vast majority of the day.” The trial court also observed that the “alleged harassment persisted relentlessly and without reprieve for a significant number of hours, despite as Kearns asserts, her explicit and consistent rejection and disapprobation of the conduct.” Thus, the trial court concluded, the alleged harassment “was far more substantial and inescapable than a few trivial offhand comments.”
Marion County Sexual Harassment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida, and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of sexual harassment victims. If you have been sexually harassed at work or have questions about your rights as a sexual harassment victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes 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.