11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Georgia employment law, recently stuck up
for anyone, especially
women, who have to listen to endless trash- talking and vulgarities in the workplace.
Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide (11th Cir en banc 01/20/2010), involved a female plaintiff who claimed
that she suffered a gender- based hostile work environment. The trial
court had found for the defendant.
Reeves’ evidence was essentially that working at Robinson subjected
employees to a continual stream of vulgarities from co- workers, although
only some of the vulgarity was gender- specific. The trial court apparently
held that an endless stream of vulgarities wasn’t gender- based
if only a portion of them were specifically directed at females.
The language was also apparently directed at everyone within earshot, and
the trial court had held that Reeves did not have a Title VII cause of
action unless the vulgarities were specifically directed at her.
The 11th overturned the lower court in every regard. During her testimony,
Reeves had established that at least some of the derogatory language was
directed at the general female population.
The decision has all of the harsh language in it, but we’ll leave
that out for this blog. Read the case if you want to see what the language
Nevertheless, the court specifically held that certain words are more degrading
to women than they are to men. The court said, “a member of a protected
group cannot be forced to endure pervasive, derogatory conduct and references
that are gender-specific in the workplace, just because the workplace
may be otherwise rife with generally indiscriminate vulgar conduct. Title
VII does not offer boorish employers a free pass to discriminate against
their employees specifically on account of gender just because they have
tolerated pervasive but indiscriminate profanity as well.”
The court concluded that, “words and conduct that are sufficiently
gender-specific and either severe or pervasive may state a claim of a
hostile work environment, even if the words are not directed specifically
at the plaintiff.”
In striking a blow for propriety, the court has really expanded the idea
of what can constitute a hostile work environment. If you feel that you
are being subjected to this kind of behavior in the workplace, please
contact us for an
evaluation of your situation.