Here’s another good reason to tell all managers and supervisors that you’ll tolerate absolutely no ethnic, religious or racial comments: Just one or two comments—followed by an adverse employment action such as lost overtime or termination—may be enough to establish a hostile work environment.
What’s more, those later acts, though perhaps unrelated to the earlier comments, can extend the time the employee has to file his hostile environment claim.
That’s because courts recognize a concept they call a “continuing violation,” which considers the earlier comments as part of a long chain of events that contribute to the hostile environment. So a long-ago ill-placed comment can be part of the lawsuit.
Recent case: Igor Desyatnik, who is Jewish, went to work as a toolmaker. Shortly after being hired, Desyatnik claimed his supervisor made several disparaging comments about his religion and ethnicity, allegedly calling him a “Jewish bastard” and telling him to “take a hike … I know where you come from.”
Desyatnik complained, and the comments stopped. But then he stopped getting scheduled for overtime shifts. Almost a year later, he heard a rumor that was trying to get rid of him. Then, he came to work one day to find a new employee at his workstation and was told to go sweep the floor. He got into a fight and was fired.
When Desyatnik sued for having had to work in a hostile environment, the company said he missed his 300-day deadline because all the allegedly anti-Semitic comments had taken place a year earlier. But the court linked those comments to the later events, saying they were part of a possible continuing violation. (Desyatnik v. Atlantic Casting, No. 03-5441, DC NJ, 2008)