Life can be unfair, but employers don’t have to guarantee a perfect, harmonious workplace. The fact that a worker may endure slights, insults or even plots to drive him out of the job aren’t necessarily the basis for liability.
It’s up to the employee to prove a connection between incidents and something like his race, age, disability or other protected characteristic.
Recent case: Shelton, who is black, worked for a state agency as a park attendant. He started off as an unclassified hourly employee and was then promoted to a regular employee with full state benefits.
Shelton later sued, alleging that he had endured a hostile work environment in which a co-worker allegedly tried to “set him up for failure.” He also complained that he was assigned to work at a lake, even though he didn’t know how to swim. However, he never connected these alleged incidents and job assignments to his race or any other protected characteristic.
The court tossed out Shelton’s case. (Frazier v. Sabine River Authority, No. 12-30750, 5th Cir., 2013)
Final note: Unfortunately, current and former employees sometimes sue for reasons that seem a mystery to their employers. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring their EEOC complaints or other court filings. The easiest way to lose a winnable case is to think it will just go away. That won’t happen without action on your part. Get help from an attorney right away. It’s money well spent.
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