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Comments and behavior directed at others can create hostile environment

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Here’s another reason to strictly enforce a zero-tolerance policy for any sexist, religious or racial comments: Even comments or behavior directed at one individual can create a hostile environment for others who belong to the same protected class.

So while the targeted person may not sue, someone else just might.

Recent case: Ulana Illiano worked as an administrative assistant to a school superintendent who seemed to go out of his way to be being generally offensive. For example, he consistently made negative comments about employees who took days off on Jewish holidays, commenting that he wasn’t “used to all the Jew holidays” because there were no Jews where he grew up.

He also allegedly called another female administrative assistant a “c__t” and constantly placed his hands on her body.
Illiano sued, alleging a religiously and sexually hostile environment.

Because she is not Jewish, the court rejected Illiano’s religiously hostile claim. But it did allow the sexually hostile environment claim to go forward.

The court reasoned that the hostility didn’t have to be directed at Illiano as long as she belonged to the same protected class as the woman who had been targeted. (Illiano v. Mineola Union Free School District, No. 08-CV-529, ED NY, 2008)

Final note: Consider adopting a general civility code. It’s good for morale and will prevent lawsuits. You can make qualities like “treats subordinates and co-workers with respect” evaluation criteria.

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