Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: If my co-workers are mean to me and harass me, can I sue for a hostile work environment? What can I do if my boss is really mean to me and yells a lot of racially offensive comments? If my employer ignores my complaints about race or gender discrimination, can I sue for hostile work environment?
As you can probably imagine, our discrimination attorneys routinely deal with some of the worst human conduct out there – we hear from employees whose supervisors openly discriminate based on employees’ race, gender, pregnancy, national origin, disability, religion, military status, ancestry, or age when making employment decisions, who pay people different amounts for the same work upon similar unlawful considerations, and who retaliate against employees who report or oppose such conduct. Our employment attorneys have gone after managers, bosses, and supervisors that have demand sex from their subordinate employees.
Our employment law attorneys also hear from lots of employees who are subjected to hostile work environments. These employees suffer from unfair bullying, harassment, and nitpicking from their co-workers and supervisors. They are sometimes called names, targeted for discipline, and they are socially ostracized. So, which of the categories of employees described above can sue for hostile work environment?
First off, it is important to note that garden-variety bullying and harassment is not illegal unless it is motivated by an illegal discriminatory consideration. If your co-workers are mean to you, that may be a hostile environment, but it does not rise to the level of an illegal hostile work environment that you can sue over unless the reason (or one of the reasons) you are being bullied is because of your race, gender, sex, pregnancy, national origin, disability, religion, military status, ancestry, or age. If you cannot demonstrate that you are being treated horribly for one of these reasons, there is nothing you can really do to make it stop, other than to find a new job. Of course, people are smart enough today to hide their true motivations, and you should never assume that just because one of your tormentors never makes a discriminatory remark, that your membership in a protected class is not a factor. If you are being bullied or harassed and you even have a small inkling that an unlawful consideration is the reason why, make sure you call the right attorney and complain to management – preferably in writing. Just make sure that when you complain, you specify what illegal consideration you think is motivating the harassment. This is very important.
The employee who is directly discriminated against – demoted, disciplined, suspended, terminated (or who suffers several other types of adverse employment actions) because of an illegal reason cannot necessarily bring a hostile work environment claim either. To establish a claim for a hostile work environment, an employee needs to demonstrate that they were subjected to a severe and pervasive environment of harassment based on their membership in a protected class; that they were personally offended by it; that others would be too; and that the harassment was so severe that it affected the ability of the employee to do their job. A prime example of a hostile work environment is one in which your boss or a co-worker sexually harasses you, touches you inappropriately, sexually propositions you, or makes sexually suggestive remarks. Another example would be a work environment in which racial epithets are thrown around freely. However, if the discrimination you encounter is more based upon disparate treatment, or an adverse employment action based upon your membership in a protected class, you likely cannot bring a claim for hostile work environment, even though you can still bring claims for discrimination and wrongful termination. In other words, a hostile work environment usually requires evidence that is not discreet but blatant, or what employment attorneys sometimes refer to as “direct“ evidence.
A recent case out of the Eastern District Court of Michigan, Abdelrahman Yasser Hassane v. Trimedx Inc. Of Michigan, is useful in explaining this difference. There, the employee claimed that he had been subjected to a hostile work environment because his employer had considered his religion (Islam) in demoting him and denying him proper training (and denying him a promotion and a salary increase along the same lines), and had failed to do anything about his complaints that he was being discriminated against. The employer then filed a motion to dismiss the claim on the pleadings. Even under the motion to dismiss standard (which require a court to assume that all the allegations in the employment discrimination and wrongful termination complaint are true), the court found that these allegations simply did not allow the plaintiff to establish a hostile work environment claim:
In Hafford v. Seidner, 183 F.3d 506 (6th Cir. 1999), plaintiff’s claim of a racially hostile work environment (based on co-workers making death threats against plaintiff and calling him racially derogatory names) survived summary judgment, while his claim of a religiously hostile work environment (based on supervisors commenting that plaintiff was “preparing for a holy war” and that Islam taught hatred of white people, and a supervisor mocking the Muslim greeting) did not. In Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993) and Williams v. Gen. Motors Corp., 187 F.3d 553 (6th Cir.1999), where the hostile work environment claims were permitted to proceed, the harassment took the form of frequent, demeaning and sexually suggestive comments. In Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), cited in Harris, the hostile work environment claim was permitted to proceed where the harassment took the form of years of fondling and sexual abuse. In Creggett v. Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Educ., 491 F. App’x 561, 568 (6th Cir. 2012),where plaintiff’s racially hostile work environment claim failed on summary judgment, plaintiff alleged “that he was being subjected to excessive classroom observations; accused of lying by his principal,…; forced to resign from [a school committed]; received a harsher punishment than two female teachers for a similar breach of the school’s confidentiality policy; and denied professional training that other teachers were given.” 491 F. App’x at 564.
In the present case, plaintiff does not allege that defendants subjected him to a religiously hostile work environment. It is not alleged that defendants, or any of plaintiff’s co-workers, made any insulting or demeaning comments, or threats, regarding plaintiff’s religion. There is, quite simply, no allegation – or even the slightest hint – of “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” anywhere in plaintiff’s complaint. The Court shall therefore grant defendants’ motion to dismiss Counts III and V on this basis.
So, what is the takeaway from Hassane? Courts are likely to be skeptical of hostile work environment claims that lack evidence of explicit discriminatory remarks, or other direct evidence of discrimination. As such, make sure that you document and keep track of those harassing comments regarding our race, gender, pregnancy, national origin, disability, religion, military status, ancestry, or age.
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