If you like court opinions which repeatedly quote bad words — and sometimes define them — then consider Ingrid Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. from the Eleventh Circuit.
On the other hand, if offensive words… well, offend you, then stop reading here. If our federal court can brave their use and memorialize them in the F.3d, we’ll include them on this vaporous little blog. Using the visceral terms provokes thought as to whether words alone can create a hostile environment while phrases like “gender specific derogatory comments” or words like “scatological” tend to dull the mind.
The court held that evidence of gender-specific derogatory comments made about women on account of their gender (e.g., bitch, whore and variations thereof) could create an actionable hostile work environment under Title VII.
On the other hand, “general, indescriminate vulgarities” (e.g., fucking [noun], asshole, and, “the intensely offensive ‘Jesus fucking Christ’”) apparently do not trigger the gender-related protections of Title VII. We question whether that last one might trigger a claim on the basis of religion.
The critical mass of the case was that the gender-specific derogatory comments do NOT have to be directed at the plaintiff. Simply, where the environment existed and, upon receiving complaints, management did not respond, there was a jury question whether that satisfied the “intent” element of a hostile work environment.
Two factual aspects are worth noting:
One, contrary to what one might expect, the Plaintiff was a former merchant marine and “no stranger to the course language endemic to the transportation industry.”
Two, part of the hostile environment was the fact that employees played a raunchy morning radio program in the office. It is interesting that what is permissible under FCC standards (presuming it is terrestrial and not satellite radio) could create an actionable hostile work environment…
Thanks to Law.com for their twitter post and article, “Sex Specific Profanity Could Win Discrimination Case.”