Best Ohio Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: What do I need to show for a hostile work environment based on race in the workplace? Can one incident of harassment or discrimination be enough for a hostile work environment claim? Can my retaliation claim survive even if my race discrimination claim fails?
“Hostile work environment” is a term that is often thrown around by when they are being harassed, mistreated, bullied or discriminated against in the workplace. However, “hostile work environment” has a specific legal definition under Ohio and federal law with certain requirements that must be met.
In Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, the United States Supreme Court held: “To establish hostile work environment, plaintiffs like Suders must show harassing behavior ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [their] employment.’ Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986); see Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22 (1993) (‘[T]he very fact that the discriminatory conduct was so severe or pervasive that it created a work environment abusive to employees because of their … gender … offends Title VII’s broad rule of workplace equality.’). According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website, harassment becomes a “hostile work environment” when “1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” (although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) may provide good information, our employment discrimination attorneys caution against filing your employment discrimination claim with the EEOC directly – see Should I File With The EEOC Or Should I Get My Own Lawyer? Best Employment Discrimination Law Reply! and Top Employment Law Attorney: Do Not File With The EEOC Without Doing This First).
Oftentimes, the “severe and pervasive” element of a hostile work environment claim can be the hardest element to prove in Court. In addition, when the employee only complains about a single incident of harassment or sporadic, isolated instances, that can often doom a hostile work environment claim. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently authored a new decision in Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp. that is promising for Title VII hostile work environment claims.
All employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and R.C. § 4112.02(A) from being discriminated against or retaliated against by their employers on the basis of race.
Specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment, on the basis of race or color, religion, sex or gender, or national origin. Similarly, Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.02, et seq. prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, or ancestry.
In addition, the Ohio Fair Employment Practice Act, prohibits employment practices that discriminate or retaliate on the basis of race. This law also prohibits an employer from retaliating against any person because that person has opposed an unlawful discriminatory practice, made a complaint, testified, or assisted in any investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this law.
In its decision on employment discrimination and hostile work environment claims, the Court of Appeals noted that the employee, Reya Boyer-Liberto, who is African American, alleged that “within a single twenty-four hour period, while working as a cocktail waitress at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel in Ocean City, Maryland (the ‘Clarion’), she was twice called a ‘porch monkey’ and threatened with the loss of her job by a Caucasian restaurant manager.” After Boyer-Liberto reported these comments, she claims that her employer wrongfully fired her.
Based on this conduct alone, the Court issued the following holding:
As explained below, we now vacate the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings on Liberto’s claims. In so doing, we underscore the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1988), that an isolated incident of harassment , if extremely serious, can create a hostile work environment. We also recognize that an employee is protected from retaliation when she reports an isolated incident of harassment that is physically threatening or humiliating, even if a hostile work environment is not engendered by that incident alone.
In reaching this holding, the Court addressed and answered two very important questions in an employee-friendly way. First, the Court determined that a “reasonable jury could find that Clubb’s two uses of the ‘porch monkey’ epithet—whether viewed a single incident or as a pair of discrete instances of harassment—were severe enough to engender a hostile work environment.” Thus, based on a single (or perhaps two) statement(s), the Court determined that there was sufficient evidence to send Boyer-Liberto’s hostile work environment claim to a jury. Secondly, the Court determined that the survival of Boyer-Liberto’s retaliation claim was not dependent on the hostile work environment claim. Specifically, the Court held that an “employee is protected from retaliation for opposing an isolated incident of harassment when she reasonably believes that a hostile work environment is in progress, with no requirement for additional evidence that a plan is in motion to create such an environment or that such an environment is likely to occur.” Thus, if the employee believes that even one isolated comment created a hostile work environment and then complained about it to management resulting in termination, a retaliation claim can be formed and prosecuted by the employee.
This is not the first time that our employment discrimination attorneys have blogged about single acts of racism creating a hostile work environment. Most prominently, our lawyers have discussed the holding in Ayissi-Etoh v. Fannie Mae, et al., wher a federal appellate court held: “perhaps no single act can more quickly alter the conditions of employment” than “the use of an unambiguously racial epithet such as ‘nigger’ by a supervisor…This single incident might well have been sufficient to establish a hostile work environment.” (See Race Discrimination: Using The “N-Word,” Even Once, Can Create A Hostile Work Environment; and Can I Sue My Employer If My Boss Calls Me A Lazy Stupid African? Best Lawyer Reply!) Likewise, our racial discrimination attorneys wrote about Judge Kimball holding that: “No reasonable jury could conclude that a reasonable African-American would not be offended, even in a blue collar setting, by the daily use of the word ‘nigger’ and other racial jokes/comments by white supervisors.” (See Racial Discrimination: Defendant Who Argued That The Term “Nigger” and “Monkey” Not “Slurs But, Rather, As Terms Of Endearment” Shockingly Loses, Pays Large Sum Of Money.) It is truly regrettable that our attorneys have so many opportunites to address racial discrimination, but there are a lot of racist bosses out there! (See My Racist Boss Says “Nigger,” “Wetback,” “Wagon Burner,” & “Beaner” All The Time! I Need A Lawyer! and Race Discrimination: Minority Bosses Cannot Use N-Word Either)
If you feel that you are being discriminated based on your race, whatever race that may be, then call the right attorney. Race discrimination includes being harassed, fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, and denied wages. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040, you will meet with a race discrimination lawyer from Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims.
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