Asked to enforce civility, court demurs

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Courts don’t want to become micromanagers. Employers still get to decide how supervisors should treat subordinates, as long as they’re not biased and their behavior doesn’t cross the line into harassment.

Recent case:
Katherine Murphy had a difficult boss with a foul mouth. Over several years, he treated her and other subordinates to a stream of obscenities when he was displeased. However, most of his outbursts were not sex-based.

When Murphy was terminated, she sued for sexual harassment.

But she had never complained that the supervisor’s vulgarity was sexual, so she didn’t get far with the court. Instead, the judge said that, while the supervisor’s conduct was immature and unprofessional, it was not sexual harassment. (Murphy v. City of Aventure, No. 08-20603, SD FL, 2009)

Final note: Before giving a pass to supervisors who regularly curse like sailors, don’t just consider the lawsuit risk they pose. The hit to employee morale—and the resulting turnover—may make it worth giving them the heave-ho.

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