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Court: Lawsuit over anti-gay harassment won’t fly because Title VII doesn’t cover it

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

An employee who claimed a hostile work environment after co-workers harassed him for being gay has lost his lawsuit because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not include anti-gay harassment as a legal cause of action.

Recent case: Calvin Harris sued, claiming his co-workers harassed him because of his sexual orientation. He also alleged, among other things, that a co-worker uttered a ­racial slur. Finally, he complained that his supervisor got into an argument with him.

The court made quick work of his homosexual harassment claims. Even if the behavior he complained about created a hostile environment for gay employees, that didn’t mean he had a case. Title VII simply doesn’t cover sexual orientation harassment. If the incidents don’t fit into harassment based on other protected characteristics like race, sex or religion, then there is no protection under the Civil Rights Act.

As to Harris’ other claims, a one-time slur overheard and not directed at Harris wasn’t enough to create a ­racially hostile environment. Nor was there any evidence that the argument with the supervisor had any relationship to Harris’ race. (Harris v. Rieter Automotive, No. 3:10-CV-856, ND OH, 2011)

Advice: Always investigate when employees claim they have to work in a hostile environment. Beyond uncovering possible harassment, you don’t want word to get out that HR ignores harassment complaints. That perception could discourage others from coming forward.

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