Birmingham Hostile Work Environment Lawyer
Federal law protects employees from experiencing a hostile work environment on the basis of the employee’s race, age, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, among other things.
Race and Gender Hostile Work Environment Lawsuits
Perhaps the most commons hostile work environments claims are based on either race or sex. There are several ways to establish that you have been the victim of sexual harassment or racial discrimination. One way is to assert and, ultimately, prove that you were subjected to a “hostile work environment” based upon race or gender. If the hostile work environment claim is for sexual harassment or racial discrimination, the victim must generally show:
- He or she is a member of a protected group (race or gender will do);
- She was subjected to unwelcome harassment;
- The harassment complained of was based on his or her race or gender;
- The harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment and create a discriminatorily abusive work environment; and
- There is a basis for holding the employer liable (let your lawyer figure this out).
The text above is in bold for a reason. A major issue in many of these cases is whether the employee can show severe or pervasive racial or sexual harassment. According to the courts, the racial or sexual harassment must seem severe or pervasive to the employee, and more importantly, a “hypothetical” reasonable person facing the same situation must “hypothetically” agree. To put it in the words of an often-quoted court opinion: “The employee must subjectively perceive the harassment as sufficiently severe and pervasive,” and “this subjective perception must be objectively reasonable.” Mendoza v. Borden, Inc., 195 F.3d 1238, 1246 (11th Cir. 1999) (en banc).
Most employees who take the time to see a lawyer believe that the harassment they’re being subjected to is both severe and pervasive. The real issue becomes whether a “hypothetical” reasonable person would agree. This question is decided by the court before a claim for sexual harassment ever reaches a jury. In making his or her decision, the judge will often look at all of the evidence and weigh it against the following factors:
- The frequency of the conduct complained of;
- The severity of the conduct;
- Whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating (rather than merely offensive utterances); and
- Whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s job performance.
While there is no sure test to predict what a judge will do with a given case, courts have frequently stated that it is not enough for an employer or co-worker to merely throw out a few offensive remarks, even if they are racial slurs. Isolated incidents, offhand comments, and teasing will not pass the “severe or pervasive” test. Instead, the work environment must basically be flooded with sex or race-based discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult. As any employment discrimination attorney will tell you, Title VII (the law under which many discrimination and sexual harassment claims are brought) is not a general civility code. In other words, working with or for a bona fide jerk who occasionally makes racially or sexually charged comments is probably not enough to satisfy the severe or pervasive requirement for hostile work environment claims.
Representing Employees In Hostile Work Environment Claims
That’s the nuts and bolts of a hostile work environment claim for racial discrimination or sexual harassment, and the same framework generally holds true for hostile work environment claims based on other protected characteristics. As you can imagine, the law in this area is much more complex. Every case is different, so don’t be dissuaded if you think you have a claim you’d like to pursue.
Attorney Brian O. Noble at Capstone Law, LLC represents employees in hostile work environment lawsuits, including sexual harassment, and race and gender discrimination.
Employee Rights Attorney Serving Montgomery and Mobile
Do you believe you are the victim of a hostile work environment? Contact us to speak with an experienced Birmingham employer discrimination attorney. There is no fee for an initial consultation.