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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

Court Finds That Abusive Remarks About Employee’s National Origin Were Sufficiently Severe or Pervasive To Create A Hostile Work Environment

Two employees exchanging hostile words

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from harassment on the basis of race or national origin which is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.  In assessing whether racial or national origin based harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment, the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993) emphasized that a hostile work environment analysis “is not, and by its nature cannot be, a mathematically precise test.”  Thus, courts have generally rejected the use of a mathematical test in assessing whether an employee was subjected to hostile work environment harassment.  In rejecting a mathematical test, courts have found that subjecting an employee to even a limited number of racial or ethnic slurs is extremely serious and often sufficient to support a hostile work environment claim.  In reversing the trial court dismissal of an employee’s hostile work environment claim, the decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Reynaga v. Roseburg Forest Products, No. 14-35028 (9th Cir. Jan. 26, 2017) illustrates that courts should not attempt to establish a mathematical baseline for behavior that creates a hostile work environment.

Hispanic Employee Allegedly Targeted For Harassment

In that case, Efrain Reynaga (Reynaga) brought a hostile work environment harassment claim against Roseburg Forest Products (Roseburg).  Reynaga, who was born in Mexico, was employed by Roseburg as a millwright.  Reynaga and his son were the only Hispanic millwrights at Roseburg.  Reynaga claimed that he was subjected to harassment on the basis of his race or national origin by Timothy Branaugh (Branaugh).  Branaugh’s alleged harassment towards Reynaga included stating “minorities are taking over the country,” asking him whether “all Mexican women [are] fat,” leaving an email in the break room claiming that President Obama was an illegal alien and “our borders are like sieves,” remarking that “we should close the borders,” referring to African-Americans with a racial slur, and referring to Arabs with a racial slur.

The trial court dismissed Reynaga’s hostile work environment harassment claim, finding that Branaugh’s alleged harassing conduct was not severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.  On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Reynaga’s hostile work environment harassment claim.

Courts Finds Harassment Would Be Highly Offensive To Anyone

The Ninth Circuit determined that “a reasonable jury could find that Branaugh’s alleged conduct would be highly offensive and demeaning to anyone, including especially a person from Mexico.”  The appellate court rejected the trial court’s conclusion that Branaugh’s remarks were “offhand comments” or “mere offensive utterances.”  The Ninth Circuit explained that Reynaga identified “several derogatory remarks that Branaugh made specifically about Mexicans, including comments about the ‘border’ that were tinged with racism.”  The appellate court also pointed out that Branaugh allegedly used racial slurs, including a racial slur “expressive of racial hatred and bigotry.”  Therefore, the Ninth Circuit concluded, “a reasonable fact finder could conclude that Branaugh’s alleged repeated racially derogatory and humiliating remarks were sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment. 

Employer Failed To Remedy Hostile Work Environment

The Ninth Circuit also ruled that Roseburg could be held liable for the hostile work environment harassment.  The appellate court noted that “an employer is liable for a hostile work environment created by a [ ] co-worker if the employer knew, or should have known, about the harassment and failed to take prompt and effective remedial action.”  The appellate court found that Roseburg had actual knowledge of Branaugh’s alleged harassment because Reynaga had complained to management about Branaugh.  The Ninth Circuit further found that although Roseburg “may have acted promptly in investigating” Reynaga complaints, the evidence reflected that Roseburg’s response was not effective because Branaugh’s alleged harassment continued after Reynaga’s complaint to management.  Thus, because Reynaga had produced evidence establishing that Roseburg failed to remedy the hostile work environment, the Ninth Circuit concluded that a jury could reasonably find Roseburg liable for the hostile work environment harassment that Reynaga allegedly endured. 

Consult With Hostile Work Environment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have more than fifteen years of experience representing employees who have been the victim of race or national origin harassment in the workplace.  If you have been the victim of racial or national origin harassment, or have questions about any type of harassment you have endured at work, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Central Florida hostile work environment harassment attorneys.  Our employee rights law firm takes discrimination and 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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