Shut down demeaning name-calling ASAP–or else prepare to pay for your ‘tolerance’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If you need an incentive to stop name-calling in the workplace, consider this: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a jury award of $70,000 for a supervisor’s repeated and demeaning use of the word “bitch” when speaking to a subordinate.

Recent case: Kim worked as deputy director for a section within the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. Her program was aimed at reintegrating nonviolent offenders into the community.

After her position was eliminated during budget cuts, she sued, alleging sex discrimination and harassment. Kim claimed that her former supervisor frequently got in her face and called her “bitch” in front of co-workers. On one occasion, he allegedly said, “Shut the f*** up, you lying bitch.” The supervisor also used the term to describe other women.

She also claimed that he trumped up charges against her, including allegations she had sex with one of the offenders under her supervision.

The trial court concluded that the name-calling wasn’t sexual harassment.

She appealed and the 7th Circuit said the use of the term “bitch” could reasonably be viewed as sexual harassment. It said $70,000 was a reasonable sum for that part of her case. (Passananti v. Cook County, No. 11-1182, 7th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Employees know that name-calling is inappropriate. There’s no need to come up with a list of prohibited words. But do immediately punish anyone who uses demeaning language. Don’t let it escalate into a lawsuit.

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