Here’s some comfort if you discover a supervisor has made unwise comments to employees: Ambiguous statements probably aren’t enough to form the basis of a hostile work environment claim.
Recent case: Kenneth Huggins, who is black, sued after the school district he worked for investigated student allegations that he had sexually harassed them.
Huggins sued, claiming a hostile environment because his supervisor said his car was “a bomb.” Huggins said the statement was racially based. He also said the sexual harassment charge was retaliation.
The court disagreed and dismissed the case. The supervisor’s statement wasn’t enough evidence to show that the environment was hostile. Plus—because students made the harassment claims—employer retaliation wasn’t valid. (Huggins v. Coatesville Area Schools, No. 10-4484, 3rd Cir., 2011)
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- Prompt response key in hostile environment cases
- Stop harassment with warning, then follow up to confirm problem was really solved