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Mere petty behavior? Don’t sweat bias suit

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employees sue over the most trivial workplace incidents. Fortunately, courts have more important things to do than soothe hurt feelings. Busy judges are quickly dismissing cases that are based on nothing more than a few petty incidents.

Recent case: Jeffrey worked for the New York City prison system as a captain. He was disciplined after criticizing co-workers and superiors who allegedly carried on romantic relationships with fellow employees or subordinates.

He sued. Among his complaints: When he voiced concern about the alleged affairs, his supervisors made him perform extra work such as editing his log reports. In addition, Jeffrey supervised some of the women alleged to be having improper romantic relationships. Jeffrey said they were allowed to ignore his directions and sometimes even treated him with disrespect. All this, Jeffrey claimed in his lawsuit, amounted to sex discrimination against him.

The court disagreed. First, it concluded that none of the slights Jeffrey described affected his ability to do his job, even if they were annoying. For example, it is a supervisor’s prerogative to tell subordinates what to do. Thus, when superiors told subordinates to ignore Jeffrey’s instructions, that was within a supervisor’s accepted role. Likewise, making someone do a little extra work is hardly outside the scope of normal workplace inconvenience—it’s the sort of thing we all endure in exchange for a paycheck. Whether those decisions were wise or foolish was irrelevant, the court said.  

Second, nothing Jeffrey described amounted to sex discrimination. While he may have disapproved of alleged romantic involvements at work, being treated poorly for voicing disapproval wasn’t discrimination based on being male. The case was dismissed. (Williams v. City of New York, et al., No. 11-CV-9679, SD NY, 2013)

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