Employee complains co-workers ignore her? That’s not enough for discrimination claim

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees just aren’t very likable, and that can lead to workplace awkwardness. Co-workers may ignore their prickly colleagues and only deal with them when necessary.

That’s OK as long as the co-workers don’t end up going beyond mild ostracism.

Recent case: Judith, a professor, was upset when she didn’t receive a promotion. She believed she wasn’t picked because she is a woman.

She sued, and added a claim that her male co-workers ostracized and ignored her as much as they could. In addition, she told the court that her supervisor refused to assign her to upper-level classes and hadn’t adjusted her schedule to suit her ­personal preferences.

The court tossed out Judith’s case. With respect to the ostracizing claim, the court concluded that the co-worker behavior Judith described didn’t rise to the level of a hostile work environment. Simply being ignored by your co-workers—the equivalent of not being asked to sit at the popular lunch table in high school—isn’t grounds for a federal lawsuit. (Mills v. Southern Connecticut State University, et al., No. 11-3688, 2nd Cir., 2013)

Final note: This case reflects the sensible recognition that no workplace is ever going to be perfect. While employers can and should insist on civil behavior (for example, banning shouting, screaming and name-calling), that doesn’t mean employees have to like one another. They just have to get along well enough to get their jobs done.

Leave a Comment