Best Ohio Sexual Harassment Attorney Answer: Is it sexual harassment if my boss makes fat jokes in front of me? Is it sexual harassment if my supervisor farts on employees? Do I have a claim for a hostile work environment against my manager in Ohio?
Disclaimer: At one point in time in everyone’s life (usually up through middle school), jokes about farting and farting in the direction of others was funny.
Now that the necessary disclaimer is out of the way, farting in the direction of co-workers is undoubtedly never appropriate in a workplace. A managers’ fat jokes are undoubtedly never appropriate in a workplace. Use of the “F-word” is undoubtedly never appropriate in a workplace. However, are these behaviors illegal? In today’s blog, our employment law lawyers review the difference between a hostile work environment and an unlawfully hostile work environment.
This interesting question was recently answered by a federal court in Indiana in Carboni v. Fort Wayne Community School Corp. In Carboni, a school teacher alleged that her principal, not a student, engaged in a pattern of what can safely be described as childish behavior. The male principal would make jokes about people, in most cases women, being fat. In addition, the principal “would approach a coworker, yell ‘spider,’ raise his leg, and pass gas directly at the coworker.” (Whether this action constitutes assault could certainly be its own blog post, but for now, the focus will remain on sexual harassment.) Not surprisingly, the principal also frequently used the “F-word” in front of other coworkers.
The employee in Carboni argued that the principal’s actions amounted to sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the court held that the principal’s actions, while stupid, were not against the law. The main issue with the plaintiff’s claim in Carboni was that the principal’s actions were not based on gender. In order to sustain a sexual harassment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or its Ohio counterpart, R.C. § 4112.02, the harassment must be based on gender. Whether the offensive conduct be jokes of a sexual nature or inappropriate touching, sexual harassment by nature has to be directed at someone because of his or her gender.
In rejecting the employee’s claim, the Court held:
As is clear from the Plaintiff’s allegations, many of the complaints about Scheibel’s behavior lack any sexual or gender component, character, or overtones, and the Plaintiff makes no attempt to explain how these actions were directed at her because of her gender. See Hardin v. S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 167 F.3d 340, 345 (7th Cir. 1999) (stating that complained of conduct in a Title VII case must have a sexual character or purpose). Additionally, much of Scheibel’s conduct was directed at both male and female employees. Because Title VII only prohibits “discrimination” because of sex, “inappropriate conduct that is inflicted on both sexes, or is inflicted regardless of sex, is outside the statute’s ambit.” Holman v. Indiana, 211 F.3d 399, 403 (7th Cir. 2000). “Title VII does not cover the `equal opportunity’ … harasser, then, because such a person is not discriminating on the basis of sex. He is not treating one sex better (or worse) than the other; he is treating both sexes the same (albeit badly).” Id.; see also Wyninger v. New Venture Gear, Inc., 361 F.3d 965, 976 (7th Cir. 2004) (plaintiff did not establish a genuine issue of material fact on whether she was harassed because of her gender where her superiors’ vulgar language showed them to be crude individuals who treated everyone poorly, including men). The Plaintiff also complains about conduct directed at coworkers in her presence. Such complaints carry less weight that complaints about conduct directed at the individual complaining. See McKenzie v. Milwaukee Cnty., 381 F.3d 619, 624 (7th Cir. 2004) (recognizing that the impact of harassment directed at others is not as great as harassment directed at the individual).
Plaintiff argued that there was actually a gender component to the principal’s inappropriate behavior because the principal would tell what the employees characterized as “fat woman jokes.” The court rejected this argument as well and stated that “[i]f anything, his misconduct was focused on weight, not gender.” Because the plaintiff failed to prove that the principal’s juvenile actions were based on gender, the court granted the school’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s sexual harassment claims.
The takeaway from this case, despite its immature content, is very important. Ohio and federal anti-discrimination laws provide many protections to employees. However, one protection that is not afforded is protecting employees from supervisors who act like complete buffoons for reasons other than protected class status. Had this principal directed his gaseous admissions at only women — or for that matter only Black staff, only Hispanic employees, or disabled workers – then you may be able to make out a case of unlawful employment discrimination. Everyone can agree the principal’s actions were ridiculous and wholly inappropriate for a workplace, especially a school. However, an employee still needs to prove that the supervisor’s conduct is based on a protected category, like gender, race, religion or disability. Hence, the principal, while hopefully fired for his behavior, did not break the law.
Sexual harassment is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar Ohio laws. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. If you feel that you are being sexually harassed or are working in a sexually charged or hostile working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney at 866-797-6040 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At the Spitz law firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment lawyer/hostile work environment attorney to find out what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Sexual harrassment is a form of gender discrimination, and employers should be held accountable if they discriminate against female workers in any fashion – but particularly for sexual harrassment. It does not matter if you have been wrongfully fired or are still employed, there is no reason to wait to find out what your legal rights are and how to protect yourself from sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
The materials available at the top of this page and at this gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and sex harassment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking “what should I do …”, “I’m being sexually harassed …” “my supervisor grabbed my…”, “my boss is touching…,” “I’ve been wrongfully terminated,” or “how do I …”, your best course is to contact an Ohio sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to obtain advice with respect to sexual harassment/hostile work environment questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this employment law website are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of the Spitz law firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.