You’d like to think that employees will never do or say anything even mildly offensive. But that’s just not realistic … and courts don’t expect it to be.
In reality, some supervisors don’t get along with some subordinates. Workers chafe against their bosses. And co-workers squabble over everything and anything.
As long as those squabbles and personality conflicts don’t turn into discrimination based on age, race, religion or another protected category, they simply won’t rise to the level of unlawful discrimination.
Recent case: Brenda Thompson, a Christian who attends a fundamentalist church, worked in a cubicle in an open-space office. She didn’t like hearing the sexually oriented talk her co-workers sometimes engaged in because it offended her religious beliefs.
Plus, a co-worker once asked Thompson whether her church was a devil-worshipping cult. And she was offended by a photo of a person sporting drawn-on devil horns in a co-worker’s cubicle. Thompson believed co-workers were excluding her because of her religious beliefs.
She quit and filed a religious discrimination claim with the EEOC. The commission then sued on her behalf, alleging the company tolerated a religiously hostile work environment.
Result? The court tossed out her case. It said that while the co-workers’ actions may have annoyed Thompson, none of her complaints was serious or pervasive enough to rise to the “hostile environment” level. (EEOC v. T-N-T Carports, No. 1:09-CV-27, MD NC, 2011)
- Train managers: Watch out for language that could be construed as derogatory
- Stop unpleasantness from becoming harassment
- Be prepared to explain your reasonable rationale for firing protected-class worker
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