Should Employees Trust The Findings Of Employer Sexual Harassment Investigations?
Having represented sexual harassment victims for more than two decades, our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County, Florida have learned that the rights of sexual harassment victims are rarely vindicated by employer investigations into their sexual harassment complaints. In the substantial majority of employer sexual harassment investigations, the findings are there is no evidence that any sexual harassment occurred at all or there is no evidence substantiating that any sexual harassment occurred at all.
In the exceptional cases where an employer sexual harassment investigation finds some evidence of sexual harassment, the employer invariably puts its self-serving spin on the evidence by characterizing the sexual harassment as “isolated,” “infrequent,” “mild,” “horseplay,” or “simple teasing.” In such exceptional cases, employers often further put their self-serving spin on the evidence of sexual harassment by ascribing an ostensibly benign intent to the harasser and finding that the harasser did not intend to offend or cause harm. Having minimized, if not eradicated, the significance of the evidence of sexual harassment, the employer then summarily concludes that the sexual harassment did not create a hostile working environment.
When informing sexual harassment victims that the harassment they endured did not create a hostile working environment, employers almost never disclose the standard they used in concluding that the harassment did not create a hostile working environment. The standard favored by most employers, however, is that sexual harassment must reach the point of “hellish” to create a hostile working environment. In other words, employers maintain that “hellishness” is the touchstone of a hostile working environment. Anything short of the point of “hellish” sexual harassment, according to employers, does not create a hostile working environment.
In this article, our sexual harassment attorneys in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in Brinson v. Eagle Express Lines, Inc., 2023 WL 6312400 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 2023) shows that sexual harassment need not reach the point of “hellish” to create a hostile working environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law.
Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
In that case, a man named Brinson brought a sexual harassment claim against his former employer, Eagle Express Lines, Inc. (“Eagle Express”), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Title VII protects employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. 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. Brinson claims that he was subjected to sexual harassment based on the conduct of another male employee, Berry.
Brinson testified that the first alleged incident of sexual harassment occurred when Berry “was coming on to me, wanted to go out with me, asking, hey, do you want to come over to my house and be with me?” Brinson alleges that he responded, “no, I don’t want to.” Brinson further alleges that Berry asked if he could wear his hat and commented on his jeans, specifically stating that the jeans “look real good on you.” Brinson testified that he reported this incident to his supervisor.
Brinson testified that the second alleged incident of sexual harassment occurred when Berry asked to hug him, by saying, “Man, let me give a hug, man.” Brinson testified that in response to Berry, he said, “come on, man, get away from me.” Berry, according to Brinson, then said, “Man look at your booty.” Brinson testified that the third and final alleged incident of sexual harassment occurred when Berry blew kisses at him and said, “I love you, man.” Brinson further testified that Berry said, “Man, when are you just going to be with me?” Following this incident, Brinson claims that he informed his supervisor that Berry had been sexually harassing him.
Eagle Express investigated Brinson’s allegations of sexual harassment against Berry. After completing its investigation, Eagle Express concluded that there was no credible evidence to support Brinson’s claim that Berry had sexually harassed him.
“Hellish” Is Not Standard For A Hostile Environment
Eagle Express filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Brinson’s sexual harassment claim. In moving for dismissal, Eagle Express argued that the alleged sexual harassment was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile working environment. More specifically, Eagle Express maintained that the alleged sexual harassment “was not the ‘hellish’ environment necessary to establish a hostile work environment.” Thus, Eagle Express contended that sexual harassment must reach the point of “hellish” to create a hostile working environment in violation of Title VII. The trial court denied Eagle Express’ motion for dismissal and ruled that Brinson was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on his hostile work environment sexual harassment claim.
In finding that Brinson had presented sufficient evidence of severe or pervasive sexual harassment to proceed to a jury trial, the trial court rejected Eagle Express’ argument that sexual harassment must reach the point of “hellish” to establish a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. The trial court explained that Eagle Express’ argument “flatly ignores multiple directives” from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that “the environment need not reach the point of hellishness.” The trial court also pointed out that Eagle Express’ argument fails to account for the standard promulgated by the U.S. Supreme Court for establishing a hostile work environment, which “dictates that the [sexual harassment] must be only so severe or pervasive so as to affect the terms and conditions of employment.” That standard, the trial court observed, “is a far cry from hellish.” Thus, contrary to the standard used by Eagle Express for determining whether sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment, “ ‘hellishness’ is not the touchstone of a hostile work environment.”
Marion County Sexual Harassment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have litigated sexual harassment cases in Florida courts for more than twenty years. If you have been required to work in a sexually hostile environment 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.