Think you’re immune from lawsuits as long as you don’t cut an employee’s pay or fire, demote or refuse to promote him? You’re wrong.
Employees who belong to a protected class and can show they endured enough slights, insults or other harassing conduct to affect the way they perform their jobs can win a hostile environment lawsuit.
Recent case: Syed Quadri—a native of India and a Muslim—has worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation for 26 years. He sued, claiming that since 2002, he has been hassled and harassed on account of his national origin, religion and race.
Quadri’s specific allegations included being reprimanded for rude behavior and being suspended for 10 days for disobedience, unauthorized absences and failing to meet standards. He claimed he was unfairly singled out to work longer hours than he was scheduled for. He also accused his supervisor of purposely delaying a leave request, forcing Quadri to miss an opportunity to vacation in his native India.
The state argued that Quadri couldn’t sue because he hadn’t been fired, demoted or otherwise harmed by the alleged harassment.
But the court said that wasn’t particularly relevant. What counts is whether the alleged harassment affected his ability to perform his job, not whether his employer fired or demoted him. Employers can’t harass employees (perhaps hoping they’ll quit) and then claim they did nothing wrong. (Quadri v. Ohio Department of Transportation, No. 2:10-CV-733, SD OH, 2011)
Final note: Harassment that occurs over a long period of time may be what’s called a continuing violation. Employees can include such incidents in discrimination lawsuits even if they occurred long before the 300-day EEOC filing deadline.