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Not all harassment based on sex is illegal

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees mistakenly believe that teasing, joking and otherwise making fun of an employee is always grounds for a harassment lawsuit. That’s not true.

For example, in order to sue for sexual harassment, employees have to show that the conduct they object to is somehow tied to their gender.

Recent case: Steven Christine worked for a mortgage investment company for about five months before he quit. He then sued, alleging sexual harassment. This was no run-of-the-mill harassment.

Christine alleged that his male co-workers and supervisors engaged in a concerted effort to label him a pedo­phile and suggested that he preyed upon children, especially young boys.

Christine said he was frequently referred to simply as B12—something he thought meant he only liked boys 12 and under. Other times, he was called PB, which he said he thought stood for “pedophile boy.” He said co-workers commented that it was good that Christine was at work when neighborhood schools let out.

Finally, Christine came to work and discovered a new screensaver on his computer. It was a picture of a van with blacked-out windows and the words “free candy” spray painted on the side. That’s when he walked out, since his complaints to management had not stopped the harassment.

But the court tossed out his law­suit. It concluded that Title VII—which prohibits sex discrimination, including harassment based on sex—does not cover the type of poor behavior that went on where Christine worked. The court explained that Christine’s sex had nothing to do with the harassment. Instead, the harassment was based on a sexual deviation that isn’t necessarily sex-linked. (Christine v. Mortgage Investors, No. 8:10-CV-02135, MD FL, 2011)

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