Court: Employee must tie claims to protected status to win hostile environment case

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees think that any unfair treatment is grounds for a lawsuit under either federal law or California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). They whine about co-workers and complain about being wronged. Fortunately for em­­ployers, mundane workplace gripes aren’t enough to support a lawsuit.

Recent case: Del, a Stanislaus County deputy sheriff, had trouble getting along with others. His partners frequently asked for transfers. When he and his latest partner got into a shouting match, Del claimed he worked in a hostile environment. He sued, alleging discrimination and retaliation under FEHA.

The court tossed out his case. Del never raised membership in a protected class as the cause of the argument or as the basis for what he perceived as a hostile work environment. The court said he was, at most, the victim of unfair treatment. And unfair treatment isn’t necessarily illegal treatment. (Camara v. County of Stanislaus, No. F061912, Court of Appeal of California, 5th Appellate District, 2012)

Final note: How should you deal with employees who simply can’t get along with others and constantly complain? Your first move: Sit down and discuss the problems. If that doesn’t work, discipline the employee who can’t or won’t make the changes required to contribute to a harmonious workplace.

Be careful that the employee isn’t engaging in protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Discussing workplace conditions is protected; being disruptive is not.

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