It is important to remember that employment laws define a narrow scope of protections for employees. Between Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), employers are prohibited against discriminating against employees based on the employee’s race/color, religion, gender/sex (including pregnancy and LGBTQ+ status), national origin, disability, and age. In addition to employers being prohibited from taking adverse employment actions (such a firing, demoting, failing to promote) based on these protected classes, employers also cannot create hostile work environments based on these same classes. Legally, a “hostile work environment” exists under Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive work environment. (Best Law Read: What Is A Legally Hostile Work Environment?; How Do I Prove My Hostile Work Environment Claim?).
Can I sue my employer for verbal abuse at work?
Employment Discrimination Lawyer Answer: That depends. In order for a manager, supervisor or boss’s yelling, harassment, and verbal abuse to be actionable, it must be based on the employee’s protected class, which again includes race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, and age. The test’s first element concretely expresses the principle that In Jensen v. Potter, 435 F.3d 444, 449–50 (3d Cir. 2006), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained this principal:
Title VII is not “a general civility code for the American workplace.” See Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 80–81, 118 S.Ct. 998, 140 L.Ed.2d 201 (1998). Many may suffer severe or pervasive harassment at work, but if the reason for that harassment is one that is not proscribed by Title VII, it follows that Title VII provides no relief. This first step, therefore, requires us to identify what harassment, if any, a reasonable jury could link to a retaliatory animus. See Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 280–81 (3d Cir.2000); Shaner v. Synthes, 204 F.3d 494, 500–01 (3d Cir.2000); cf. Aman v. Cort Furniture, 85 F.3d 1074, 1081–83 (3d Cir.1996).
Thus, although clearly wrong, a manager or even the owner of the company can verbally abuse employees and be rude as long as such conduct is not violating Title VII, the ADA, or the ADEA Such conduct will violate these laws either when the verbal abuse, comments or harassment are based on a protected class or directed solely to employees that fall within the protected class. Thus, a boss calling all employees asshole, dumb, stupid, moron and the like would be wrong, but not unlawful. However, only directing those comments to only black, Hispanic, women, gay or over 40-year-old employees could trigger a claim.
A recent case, Myers v. Doherty, 2022 WL 4477050, at *2 (2d Cir. Sept. 27, 2022), illustrates this point. In Myers, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected a hostile work environment claim because the comments were not based on a protected class: “Doherty’s more recent comments—namely, that she had seen Myers wearing bow ties and attending political fundraisers … did not have racial overtones. … Doherty’s alleged rationale admits no plausible race-based inference absent allegations that Myers was similarly situated in all material respects—e.g., rank and gender—to persons allegedly afforded preferential treatment.” Id. at *2.
How far back in time can I go to show my supervisor’s abusive conduct?
Top Race Discrimination Attorney Lawyer Answer: Generally, employees have 180 days from the date of the conduct to file a charge with the EEOC, but that time will be enlarged to 300 days if the state also has laws prohibiting such discrimination. (Best Law Read: What Is The Statute Of Limitations For A Title VII Claim?). For race discrimination claims under § 1983, the statute of limitation is three years. For discreate acts of discrimination (wrongful termination, demotion, suspension, etc.) courts will only look as far back as the statute of limitations. But, when addressing a hostile work environment claim under Title VII, the ADA, or the ADEA, court will use the continuing violation doctrine, which is equitable legal principal that requires courts to consider the employer’s conduct that was engaged in outside the statute of limitation period if it is sufficiently connected to unlawful conduct occurring causing a hostile work environment inside within the limitations period. To be sufficiently connected, the prior conduct must be of a similar kind and not to remotely separated in time.
In Myers, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held on this point:
Myers filed his original complaint on January 11, 2021. The district court correctly observed that various incidents, as alleged in the complaint, occurred more than three years before that date: Defendant Inspector Mary Christine Doherty’s comments to Myers in 2005; Doherty’s alleged retaliation against Myers following his objections to those 2005 comments; the later-vacated disciplinary action Doherty issued to Myers when Myers’s car was towed while he was working; the less favorable performance evaluations Myers received in 2016 and 2017; and the disciplinary action Doherty issued to Myers when Myers changed his schedule in 2017. These were discrete acts that do not trigger the continuing violation doctrine, and the district court was therefore correct in dismissing Myers’s claims as untimely to the extent based upon them. See Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 114 (2002) (describing as quintessential discrete acts ”termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to hire”).
Id. at *1.
What constitutes a severe or pervasive hostile work environment?
Best Hostile Work Environment Lawyer Answer: There is no clear line that shows conduct becomes actionable. Rather, courts will view the specific facts in each case along a spectrum. To that end, the mere utterance of a singular epithet or discriminatory comment will not likely create a hostile work environment – but there are exceptions. (Best Law Read: How Much Racism Do I Have To Put Up With At Work?; Law: My Boss Called Me N*gger and Monkey. What Should I do?).
“But Title VII comes into play before the harassing conduct leads to a nervous breakdown. A discriminatorily abusive work environment, even one that does not seriously affect employees’ psychological well-being, can and often will detract from employees’ job performance, discourage employees from remaining on the job, or keep them from advancing in their careers. Moreover, even without regard to these tangible effects, the very fact that the discriminatory conduct was so severe or pervasive that it created a work environment abusive to employees because of their race, gender, religion, or national origin offends Title VII’s broad rule of workplace equality.” Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21–22, 114 S. Ct. 367, 370–71, 126 L. Ed. 2d 295 (1993).
How do I sue the company that I worked at for racial discrimination?
Best Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: 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, you will meet with a race discrimination lawyer from The Spitz Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims. Our Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit, Toledo, Akron, Detroit, and Raleigh lawyers are here to fight for your rights.
The materials available at the top of this race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and age discrimination page and on this employment 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 if I was fired because I’m Black”, “I’m being discriminated against because I’m transgendered,” “my boss is discriminating against me because he thinks I’m too old” or “How do I sue for a hostile workplace”, your best option is to contact an experienced attorney to obtain advice with respect to race discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law and wrongful termination website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, attorney Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.