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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.

Worker Alleges Sexual Orientation Harassment By Employee Carrying A Gun & Knife

A young character shielding their face with hands, caught in a distressing situation involving discrimination based on sexual orientation, overwhelming pressure, and struggles with intense unease

Throughout the past twenty years, our sexual orientation discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida have litigated hostile work environment harassment cases in Florida courts. Having decades of experience representing hostile work environment harassment victims, our sexual orientation discrimination attorneys in Ocala, Florida know that discriminatory harassment often involves physically threatening behavior. In the most egregious cases, discriminatory harassment victims are subjected to harassing remarks by an employee who is armed with a weapon. In this article, our sexual orientation discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in Brown v. Ferrara Candy Company, 2023 WL 6519973 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 5, 2023) illustrates that harassing remarks from a worker carrying a gun or knife can, standing alone, create a hostile work environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law.

Hostile Work Environment Harassment Lawsuit

In that case, a man named Brown brought a hostile work environment harassment lawsuit against his former employer, Ferrara Candy Company (“Ferrara”), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race or sex. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination forbidden by Title VII. Under well-established law, racial harassment is a form of race discrimination prohibited by Title VII. Likewise, sexual harassment, including harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, is a form of sex discrimination made unlawful by Title VII. To violate Title VII, racial or sexual harassment must be sufficient severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment. Brown, who is a gay African-American man, claims that he was harassed because of his race and sexual orientation in violation of Title VII.

In November 2020, Brown began working for Ferrara as a customer service representative. Beginning in March 2022, Brown was required to work in the same confined workspace as another employee named JK. According to Brown, JK would “make racial, political, and radical comments” to Brown while he was in the office and would harass him “with a gun and a knife.” Brown asserts that JK “openly stated that he dislikes gays and blacks.” Brown further alleges that JK would stand next to a “Black Lives Matter” flag during video calls on work from home days, which Brown believed was an attempt to intimidate him. Brown reported JK’s actions to Human Resources and requested that he be transferred to a different workspace. Brown claims that his requests were denied.

Brown alleges that his supervisors allowed JK to harass him so that he would either quit or stop complaining to Human Resources. As a result of the alleged harassment, Brown claims that his health deteriorated and that he was diagnosed with hyperthyroid. When he informed his supervisor of his health condition, Brown alleges that she was dismissive, stating “luckily you’re not a woman going through menopause.” Eventually, Brown applied for unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Brown alleges that his FMLA request was approved on April 1, 2022. Brown claims that after his FMLA request approved, he overheard his supervisor tell JK that “I’m not letting him work from home, he was to use his PTO and when that’s exhausted, I will write him up.”

In May 2022, Brown was called into a meeting with Human Resources and his supervisor. Brown was “written up” for poor performance. During this meeting, Brown alleges that his supervisor made an inappropriate comment regarding his sexual orientation by pointing at a “Gay Pride” flag in the office, stating “oh Ken look at all the nice stuff they have for you,” and laughing. In June 2022, Brown was suspended pending investigation for insubordination. Brown was terminated shortly thereafter.

Harassment With A Weapon Is Severe

Ferrara filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Brown’s hostile work environment harassment claim. In moving for dismissal, Ferrara argued that the alleged harassment Brown experienced was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile working environment in violation of Title VII. The trial court denied Ferrara’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Brown’s allegations were sufficient to state a claim for a hostile work environment under Title VII.

In denying Ferrara’s motion for dismissal, the trial court found that the “key allegation” plausibly establishing the existence of a hostile work environment was that JK “made threatening or racially hostile remarks to Brown while carrying a gun and a knife, and that Ferrara failed to respond.” The trial court reasoned “the fact that [JK] made harassing remarks to Brown while armed with a gun and knife changes the calculus.” “Harassing comments made while carrying a weapon in close physical proximity” to the victim, the trial court explained, “are plausibly both severe and physically threatening.” The trial court also pointed out “this was not a one-time occurrence” because Brown “alleges that he was harassed ‘daily, in person and online,’ and ‘whenever’ [JK] came to the office.”

Marion County, FL Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual orientation discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida have fought for the rights of employees for more than twenty years. If you have been subjected to sexual orientation harassment or have questions about your protection from sexual orientation harassment under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our sexual orientation discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination 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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