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Innuendo alone doesn’t amount to harassment

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employers can’t be expected to create perfectly harmonious workplaces, and in fact they aren’t required to. It’s an impossible task as long as human beings work together.

Generally, anti-discrimination laws are designed to punish egregious offenses rather than rude or inconsiderate behavior. That’s good news for employers dealing with isolated, sexually suggestive comments or behavior.

Recent case: Eva Betancourt worked as a police officer for the city of Dilley for all of 97 days. She resigned after experiencing what she said was working in a sexually hostile work environment. She called her resignation constructive discharge, reasoning that she had no choice but to quit because conditions were so terrible. She sued.

Among her allegations was a claim that her supervisor had called her on her personal cell phone close to the end of her shift and asked her to conduct a search for illegal immigrants behind his house. The supervisor added that his wife was not home at the time. Betancourt took this as a suggestion he was trying to lure her into a vulnerable position for sexually oriented reasons.

She also claimed that the supervisor once told her that fellow police officers “wanted to get in her pants.”

The remainder of her allegations centered on having her shift changed, being denied the right to eat lunch during an extended roadside checkpoint and having to investigate crimes without having her title upgraded.

The court tossed out Betan­court’s case. It reasoned that the behavior she described didn’t even create a sexually hostile work environment, let alone justify walking off the job. While she might have felt uncomfortable with her supervisor’s comments and behavior, it simply wasn’t serious or severe enough to warrant quitting and suing. (Betancourt v. City of Dilley, No. SA-10-0863, WD TX, 2011)

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