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Sexist remarks plus denied opportunities can add up to a hostile environment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Supervisors may subject their employers to hostile-environment liability if they make snide comments that can be interpreted as anti-female and then deny even minor opportunities for a woman to do the job she was hired to perform. It’s a case of many small indignities adding up to sex discrimination.

Recent case: Sara Fall went to work for MNP Corp. as a manufacturing information systems manager. Her job and experience qualified her to perform jobs such as running electrical cable.

Shortly after beginning the job, Fall walked in on her supervisor and a female co-worker engaged in a romantic embrace. She claimed that from then on, everyone at the company treated her poorly, including a new supervisor.

Fall said supervisors made frequent small talk indicating disrespect for women. Plus, she was denied a chance to go to an out-of-town meeting because “it isn’t appropriate for the women to go with the guys.” Finally, when she began running some cable as part of her job, her supervisor stopped her and called in a man.

She sued for a sexually hostile work environment, and the court ordered a trial. The judge reasoned that the sexist comments plus the denied opportunity to do the job she was hired to do added up to a possible hostile environment. A jury now gets the case. (Fall v. MNP Corporation, et al., No. 07-10480, ED MI, 2008)

Final note: As the saying goes, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” If you hear that a supervisor embraces females at work and makes snide comments about women in general, it’s time for some preventive sexual harassment training. Don’t wait until the supervisor denies women legitimate opportunities. You should also check to see whether promotions and training opportunities are open to all.

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