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Court: Employees need to grow thicker skins

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Few people like working in a place where supervisors and co-workers make smart comments, raise their voices or engage in other anti-social (and unpleasant) behavior. But that doesn’t mean that sensitive employees can sue their employers anytime their feelings are bruised.

It takes a pretty hostile work environment before a judge will conclude that working conditions amounted to a “den of terror” warranting litigation.

Recent case: Angela worked for Shell Exploration and Production Co. When she learned her job was being eliminated, she had several months to find another position within the company. She didn’t succeed in landing one of the open jobs.

Once terminated, she did what many former employees do. She sought a way to litigate. Angela chose an intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress approach and filed a lawsuit alleging she had endured years of misery.

Examples of the behavior Angela claimed had caused her deep distress included incidents in which a supervisor told her to “shut up” and not speak until given permission. She was also told to stop “embarrassing” herself and her department in meetings. Finally, she claimed the supervisor beckoned her “like a dog.”

Angela complained, but was informed, “You just need to suck it up. Some people just talk that way.” Angela finally confronted the supervisor and told him to stop demeaning her. The comments then ended, but the supervisor stopped talking to Angela unless necessary from then on.

The court dismissed her lawsuit. It distinguished the un­­plea­­santness of Angela’s workplace from other cases in which em­­ployees were demeaned daily for years and concluded that the Shell workplace wasn’t a “den of terror” (as she had alleged) requiring judicial intervention. (Williams v. Shell Exploration and Production Company, No. 14-13-000309, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2014)

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