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Argument in the workplace isn’t harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Sometimes, employees lose their tempers. That’s unfortunate and you certainly should discourage it. But a loud or tumultuous argument between a supervisor and a subordinate isn’t necessarily grounds for a harassment lawsuit.

Recent case: Loretta worked as a graphic designer for a newspaper. When an advertiser rejected one of her designs, she met with her supervisor to discuss possible changes. It didn’t go well.

Loretta claimed her supervisor slammed his hands on the desk and began screaming and cursing at her. She claimed that she rolled her chair back, stood up and said she needed to leave. However, she said her boss put his hands on her three times, and physically prevented her from leaving until she began “wailing and cussing and screaming and hollering.”

Loretta complained later to HR, stating that she loved her job and wanted to keep it.

A short time later, she submitted her two weeks’ resignation notice. HR then told her that the super­­visor was retiring and that she shouldn’t quit.

She did anyway and sued, alleging the newspaper was a hostile work environment.

The court tossed out the claim. It noted that nothing about the workplace argument was sexual in nature. The supervisor’s behavior may have been offensive and inappropriate, but it wasn’t illegal. (Rester v. Stephens Media, No. 12-3934, 8th Cir., 2014)

Final note: Make sure you stop conduct like that of Loretta’s boss. Discipline is in order, be­­cause that kind of behavior may escalate if a supervisor believes management is looking the other way. Also, if a supervisor reserves this type of outburst for members of a particular protected class, that could trigger a discrimination lawsuit. Screaming exclusively at women, for example, may be sex discrimination.

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