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Report Workplace Race And Sexual Harassment Quickly

by | Jul 9, 2024 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Race Discrimination, Sexual Harassment |

In the annals of workplace misconduct, the recent case of Johnson v. Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ. stands as a stark reminder that silence is not always golden. Picture this: an African American woman, Carolyn Johnson, diligently executing her role as an Administrative Coordinator in the Division of Animal Care at the University. Her desk, strategically placed in an open area connecting to the offices of certain veterinarians, including Dr. Jeffrey Schumacher, became the stage for a disheartening series of incidents. These acts included Schumacher referring to her as “Boo,” making inappropriate remarks about Black women’s physical attributes, looking down her blouse, discussing sex with Black women in her presence, openly discussing Black women’s asses, commenting daily on her appearance and perfume, and suggesting they should “get together” multiple times. Then on August 10, 2018, Schumacher pushed Johnson to0 far (for me, any of the prior conduct would have been too far). Schumacher slapped Johnson on her buttocks. This ass slapping incident became the tipping point for Johnson, leading her to break her silence and report the harassment.

Specifically, on August 14, 2018, Johnson took a brave step by notifying her direct supervisor, Shantell Curtis, about the ass slapping incident and prior harassment. The ensuing chain of events involved emails to human resources, conversations with HR personnel, and temporary relocations. The university’s investigation substantiated Johnson’s complaint, resulting in her return to the original workspace and Schumacher’s relocation.

However, when Johnson sought justice through a Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lawsuit, the  United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment on sexual harassment and racial discrimination claims. Johnson’s appeal to the Fifth District Court of Appeals brings us to a critical juncture where we explore the legal facets of her case, shedding light on vital questions surrounding workplace harassment.

Under Title VII, it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to engage in discrimination based on an individual’s race/color, religion, gender, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation so as to affect aspects like compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination encompasses protection against both tangible employment actions, such as demotion or denial of promotion, and the creation of a hostile or abusive working environment. In the case of Johnson, there is no assertion that the alleged conduct led to a tangible employment action, like termination or demotion. Therefore, for Johnson to establish a violation of Title VII based on sexual or racial harassment, she must demonstrate that the harassment resulted in the creation of a hostile or abusive working environment.

How do you prove a hostile work environment claim when the conduct is by a non-manager?

Proving a hostile work environment claim, especially when the perpetrator is not a manager, requires establishing a pervasive pattern of unwelcome behavior that creates an abusive or intimidating work environment. For an employee to establish a case of hostile work environment, the employee must present evidence showing that: (1) the employee is a member of a protected group; (2) the employee was the victim of uninvited and unwanted harassment; (3) the harassment was based on sex, race, or another protected class; (4) the harassment affected a “term, condition, or privilege” of employment; and (5) her employer knew or should have known of the harassment but failed to take prompt remedial action.

In Johnson’s case, the pre-Incident conduct, including inappropriate comments, unwanted advances, and offensive discussions about race, collectively formed a hostile work environment. Non-managerial status does not exempt an individual from liability under Title VII. The key is to demonstrate that the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to alter the terms and conditions of employment. Johnson’s case, with its pre-Incident conduct contributing to a hostile atmosphere, serves as a poignant example of the legal threshold for such claims.

Best Hostile Work Environment Lawyer Blogs on Point:

Why is it important to report sexual harassment or race discrimination when it happens?

Timely reporting of sexual harassment or race discrimination is paramount for several reasons. Firstly, it allows employers to promptly address and investigate the allegations, preventing further harm and demonstrating a commitment to maintaining a safe workplace. Johnson’s case highlights the importance of immediate reporting, as her disclosure to her supervisor initiated the investigation that ultimately substantiated her claims. Secondly, reporting creates a record of the incidents, establishing a crucial foundation for legal action if necessary. In Johnson’s situation, the documented timeline of events played a pivotal role in supporting her case during the legal proceedings.

Unfortunately for Johnson, she was able to prove all of the elements but the last one, which doomed her claim:

Here, after Johnson lodged her complaint with HR (on a Thursday), LSUHSC promptly took steps so that Johnson did not have to interact with Schumacher, including relocating her workspace that following Monday. LSUHSC also opened an investigation, which eventually substantiated Johnson’s claims and led to permanently moving Schumacher. … LSUHSC quickly took action to separate Johnson and Schumacher in order to prevent potential further harassment. LSUHSC’s actions were very similar to those undertaken in other cases where this court has found prompt remedial action as a matter of law: Johnson and Schumacher were physically separated, and Schumacher was instructed not to have contact with or be around Johnson. See Skidmore, 188 F.3d at 616. Because Johnson has failed to demonstrate the fifth element, her harassment claims relating to the Incident fail.

Id. at *3. Essentially, the employer was not held liable for the racial and sexual harassing conduct prior to the report, because there was no evidence that it knew or should have know about that conduct. This is a critical reason to report and document the reporting of such conduct – because it puts the employer on notice.

Best Race Discrimination Attorney Blogs on Point:

What does an employer have to do when it gets a report of racial discrimination or sex harassment?

When an employer receives a report of racial discrimination or sexual harassment, it has a legal obligation to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation. In Johnson’s case, the University initiated an investigation upon Vice-Chancellor Moerchbacher’s return on August 27th, 2018. The investigation, concluding on September 18th, substantiated Johnson’s complaint, leading to corrective measures such as her return to the original workspace and the relocation of Schumacher. Employers must take appropriate corrective action based on the investigation’s findings to remedy the discriminatory or harassing behavior and prevent its recurrence. Failure to address such complaints adequately will likely expose the employer to legal liability.

Best Sex Harassment Law Firm Blogs on Point:

What should I do if I am being sexually harassed at work?

If you find yourself a victim of sexual harassment at work, taking swift action is crucial. Consult an experienced employment attorney to understand your rights and explore potential legal remedies. In Johnson’s case, the involvement of an attorney could have expedited the resolution process and ensured that her rights were protected. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, stands out as a beacon of support for employees facing workplace harassment. With a commitment to justice, Spitz offers a free initial consultation, providing victims with an opportunity to discuss their case without financial barriers. The no fee guarantee underscores Spitz’s dedication to ensuring that victims can seek legal recourse without worrying about upfront costs, making it the optimal choice for those seeking justice in cases of workplace harassment.


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