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James Tarquin, P.A
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Florida Federal Court Allows Case Of Same-Sex Sexual Harassment To Go Forward

orange sign that reads stop harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination made unlawful by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).  Prohibited sexual harassment under Title VII is not limited to harassment by employees of the opposite sex.  Rather, Title VII also makes same-sex sexual harassment unlawful.  Same-sex sexual harassment is unlawful under Title VII regardless of the harasser’s or victim’s sexual orientation.  Consequently, a same-sex sexual harassment Title VII claim does not depend on the sexual orientation of the individuals involved.

Under Title VII, same-sex sexual harassment is unlawful only if it occurs because of the victim’s sex.   In other words, a victim of same-sex sexual harassment must show that, but for his or her sex, he or she would not have been subjected to the sexually harassing behavior.  Courts have articulated several ways a victim of same-sex sexual harassment can prove that the harassment occurred because of his or her sex.  One way is for the victim to show that the harasser’s conduct was motivated by sexual desire or sexual attraction.  Another way is for the victim to show that the harasser’s conduct was motivated by hostility to the presence of men or women in the workplace.  A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Huenefeld v. National Beverage Corp., No. 16-62881 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 24, 2017) is instructive in showing the type of allegations that are sufficient to establish that same-sex sexual harassment occurred because of the victim’s sex.

Male Employee Allegedly Harassed By Male CEO

In that case, Terrence Huenefeld (Huenefeld) brought a same-sex sexual harassment claim against his former employer, National Beverage Corp. (National Beverage), under Title VII.  Huenefeld was employed by National Beverage as a pilot.  His duties included flying an airplane with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of National Beverage.  The male CEO is also, like Huenefeld, licensed as a commercial pilot.  The CEO used the airplane for both personal and business travel.

Huenefeld alleged that the CEO engaged in a pattern of unwanted sexually harassing behavior during their flights.  Huenefeld asserted that the CEO subjected him to sexually oriented touching, including repeatedly grabbing, rubbing, and groping his leg in a sexual manner.  Huenefeld further asserted that during the touching incidents the CEO made comments to him such as “just because you have a pair of balls, doesn’t mean you’re the man, I am the man,” and “there can only be one alpha male.”  Huenefeld also claimed that he was required to send text messages to the CEO after each flight praising the CEO’s skills as a pilot.

  National Beverage filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Huenefeld’s same-sex sexual harassment claim.  National Beverage argued that the claim must be dismissed because Huenefeld could not establish that the alleged harassment occurred because of his sex.  The trial court denied the motion and allowed Huenefeld’s claim to go forward.

The trial court explained that a sexual harassment victim could demonstrate that the harassment was based on his or her sex where a “substantial portion of the words and conduct” may be reasonably viewed as “gender-specific.”  As the CEO’s alleged comments to Huenefeld were “gender-specific,” Huenefeld’s allegations established that he was “harassed in such sex-specific and derogatory terms as to make it clear that [the CEO] was motivated by general hostility to the presence of other men in the cockpit.”   Consequently, the trial court found that Huenefeld’s allegations were sufficient to establish that, but for his sex, he would not have been subjected to the harassment. 

Free Consultation With Ocala Hostile Work Environment Lawyers   

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have almost twenty years of experience fighting for employees who have been the victims of hostile work environment harassment in the workplace.  If you have been the victim of same-sex sexual harassment, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Central Florida hostile work environment harassment attorneys.  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. 

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