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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.

Florida Worker’s Claim That He Was Harassed Because He Is Cuban Reinstated On Appeal


Having represented victims of hostile work environment harassment for more than two decades, our Sumter County, Florida harassment lawyers know that employees continue to be targeted for insult, ridicule, and abuse because of their national origin. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), employees are protected from discrimination on the basis of national origin. In Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing Company, Inc., 414 U.S. 86 (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court defined a national origin as the “country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came.” National origin harassment is a form of national origin discrimination made an unlawful employment practice by Title VII. In this article, our Wildwood, Florida harassment attorneys explain how the recent decision by the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Fernandez v. Trees, Inc., Case No. 18-12239 (11th Cir. June 9, 2020) demonstrates that employees are protected from national origin harassment which is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of their employment and create a hostile work environment.

Employee Claims He Endured Racial Slurs

In that case, Alexis Soto Fernandez (Fernandez) brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Trees, Inc. (Trees), pursuant to Title VII. Fernandez, who is Cuban, contends that Trees violated Title VII by requiring him to work in a hostile environment because of his Cuban origin.

Trees is in the business of providing utility line clearance for utility companies. Fernandez worked for Trees from 2015 to 2016 as a crew foreperson. Fernandez was supervised by a man named Soto. About two months before Fernandez left his employment with Trees, Soto and another Cuban worker had a physical altercation. After this altercation, Soto began to make discriminatory remarks about Cubans to the workers he supervised, such as: “crying, whining Cubans” and “f***ing Cubans.” Soto also declared, “a new policy in the company, no more Cuban people.” Fernandez testified that this type of behavior continued on a near-daily basis, and all the workers on site heard it. Fernandez’s co-workers also testified that Soto repeatedly spoke disparagingly to Cuban workers on a near-daily basis.

Fernandez expressed displeasure with the comments at an employee meeting and asked Soto not to make general negative comments about Cubans, but instead to address any concerns with employees to those specific employees. Other workers also complained about Soto’s conduct. Despite the complaints by Fernandez and his co-workers, Soto’s behavior continued unabated. About two months after the initial altercation between Soto and another Cuban worker, Fernandez claims that his employment was terminated.

Employee Worked In Hostile Environment

The trial court dismissed Fernandez’s hostile work environment harassment claim. In doing so, the trial court ruled that the harassment which Fernandez endured was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of his employment and create an abusive work environment in violation of Title VII. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal and reinstated Fernandez’s hostile work environment harassment claim. In reversing the trial court, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Fernandez was harassed because he is Cuban and forced to work in a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.

The Eleventh Circuit rejected the trial court’s determination that the harassment which Fernandez experienced was not sufficiently pervasive to create a hostile work environment. The appellate court pointed out that Fernandez testified that Soto made discriminatory remarks about Cubans on a “near-daily basis” for almost two months. The court of appeals also noted that Fernandez’s co-workers identified more than 10 specific examples of discriminatory remarks by Soto during the two-month period. “Even if these examples were the only discriminatory remarks Soto made during Fernandez’s final two months of employment,” the Eleventh Circuit observed, courts have determined that the “harassment was pervasive when it occurred at a lower level of frequency.”

The Eleventh Circuit also rejected the trial court’s determination that the harassment which Fernandez experienced was not sufficiently severe to create a hostile work environment. Echoing the reasoning of the trial court, Trees argued on appeal that the evidence “established at most that Fernandez was subjected to a few instances of off-handed comments.” The appellate court disagreed. The court of appeals explained that “Soto continually—often in vulgar terms—disparaged, ridiculed, and insulted all the employees [of Cuban origin] and persisted in doing so despite Fernandez’s and other Cuban employees’ complaints and specific requests that he stop.” Thus, the Eleventh Circuit explained, it had “no trouble concluding that the misconduct went far beyond the mere utterance of an epithet” and was sufficiently severe to alter the conditions of Fernandez’s employment.

Consult With Wildwood, FL Harassment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Sumter County, Florida harassment attorneys have been litigating hostile work environment harassment cases in Florida courts for more than twenty years. If you have been required to work in a hostile work environment or have questions about your protection against hostile work environment harassment under the federal anti-discrimination laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Wildwood, Florida harassment lawyers. Our employee rights law firm takes hostile work environment 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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